Stage Right…or Not with Michele Willens: Hanks Does Shakespeare

The stars sparkled last Friday in the premiere of the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles’ production of “Henry IV” in the Japanese Garden of the West Los Angeles VA campus.

Joe Morton, better known as the devious Papa Pope on ABC’s dearly departed “Scandal,” played the title role with the same verbal force and regal majesty. “The New Adventures of Old Christine” alum Hamish Linklater imbued prodigal son Prince Hal with a boyishly anxious charm. And Academy Award winner Tom Hanks — donning a fat suit and a Gandalfian gray hairpiece — shined as Sir John Falstaff, the loveable and rotund rogue of Shakespearean lore, in his L.A. stage debut directed by Tony Award-winning director Daniel Sullivan.

“For a lot of people, it wouldn’t be the role you would think of when you think of Tom Hanks,” Sullivan said over the phone on his way to an onstage rehearsal two weeks ago. “But he’s taken to it delightfully.”

L.A. critics agree. “A Falstaff for the ages” enthused Entertainment Weekly. “Worthy of applause all around,” wrote the Los Angeles Times, “… theatergoers seemed rapt by this Shakespearean vision, animated by acting royalty.”

Indeed, watching Hanks turn from bumbling drunkard to forlorn fatherly figure over the course of a star-studded evening was like watching a master class in Shakespearean acting. Henry IV may be king, but Hanks’ Falstaff is the ruler of this production.

Supporting his star power were a towering set of arches, a freshly manicured slope to serve as backdrop and a sturdy peninsula stage that was built, landscaped and assembled by 34 veterans in the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles’ Veterans in Art program.


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