Berkeley has its own version of Shakespeare in The Park. Who knew? Not me. So when a friend suggested that people meet up in John Hinkel Park to see a performance of “Henry IV, Part 1” by The Free Theater, my reaction was “Huh?” Husband and I pondered the suggestion, and after reminding ourselves that we like to support fledgling theater companies and try new things and hang out with friends, we decided to go.
Siri guided us through Albany and up into North Berkeley where we found the park by following the sounds of actors doing vocal warm-ups and practicing lines. We found our friends had staked out a section of amphitheater, so we spread our blanket, poured some wine, and readied for the performance. A young man (the director?) marched in pounding a drum, explained some particulars, and introduced the performance. We were off.
The production was spartan and enjoyable. The actors made use of the park’s natural screening and the amphitheater’s stairs to make their entrances and exits. The actors had costumes and props but no set to speak of. The women (yes, women) who played Henry IV and Falstaff were very good, as was the young man who played Hotspur. Most of the acting was competent and compelling despite some of the dialogue and the swordplay being too soft. I did lose my composure when a supposedly Welsh accent reminded me too much of Inigo Montoya, but everyone who had the discipline and the courage to get out on that stage has my deep respect. Being an actor is not easy, and the road to success is uncertain and paved with experiments. We were glad to be present at this experiment, so when the actors passed the hat at the end of the play, we contributed generously.
The young director reappeared and plugged future performances by other theater groups. Maybe you should go and enjoy the amphitheater and support the arts in the community.