Gary Briggle, James Napoleon Stone, and Bruce Bohne in Theatre Coup d’Etat’s production of Rogue Prince.
Theatre Coup d’Etat’s current show, Rogue Prince, takes a different approach to Shakespeare. Where the Bard’s history plays normally unfold in sprawling detail, adapter Gary Briggle has spun elements of two plays to form a concise, driving throughline.
The bones of this standalone play are drawn from Henry IV, Part I and Henry IV, Part II. Not up on your English history? King Henry IV’s rule is fracturing around the seams, leading to strategy meetings, negotiations, and a fair bit of skullduggery. (These are, after all, some of the historical events that fed into The Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones.) The titular rogue prince, Hal, abandons his filial responsibilities to drink, carouse with rogues, and otherwise engage in mischief as the realm crumbles. When rebellion openly breaks out, there will be decisions to be made.
What this adaptation does best is spinning a coherent, compelling narrative out of several threads in the source plays’ tapestry. The result heightens the emotional stakes between Falstaff and Hal, while also creating a more consistent tone to the former character and his relations to the world. With fewer locations to visit, the world of the play crafts a triangle of tension between Falstaff (Gary Briggle), Hal (James Napoleon Stone, and Henry IV (Bruce Bohne) that tugs its members at unexpected moments.
The staging of this show in the basement of Calvary Baptist Church in Minneapolis is transient: furniture items, some props and simple costumes, and a touch of lighting with some original music. Co-directors Wendy Lehr and Gary Briggle make an astute use of the space, and there’s never any doubt where the action – and tension – are between boarding house and throne. The large ensemble shifts through a wide variety of roles, which occasionally would benefit from clearer differentiation, but the story’s never truly about them, really.
For a production that puts several of its creative leads front and center onstage, Rogue Prince hasn’t suffered from it. Briggle’s powerhouse performance as Falstaff is a vivid portrayal, both very funny and moving in the play’s twilight scenes. Theatre Coup d’Etat’s Artistic Director James Napoleon Stone portrays Prince Hal as a sweepingly charismatic figure, spilling off silver lines and a boyish joie de vivre. Bohne’s aging monarch is their stern foil, reinforced by iron.
You might want to brush up on your history before viewing – you’ll get a lot more when you realize just why some of these characters hate each other.
Rogue Prince runs through October 26 at Calvary Baptist Church in South Minneapolis.