Romance, action, political intrigue, and swordfights in “Henry 4”

Chelsea McCarthy stars in the title role in "Henry 4," directed by Scott Barrow. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

A trio of kids comes careening down a path as one of them shouts, “Last one’s a rotten egg!” People settle onto wooden benches, unfold their beach chairs, and munch on snacks. The smell of bug spray and French fries moves through the air on a light breeze. The audience gets ready for Shakespeare, outdoors style.

On Saturday evening, theatergoers at the Tisbury Amphitheater watched The Vineyard Playhouse production of “Henry 4,” directed by Scott Barrow. The story is full of drama. The tarp curtains open on the death of Richard II. Henry IV takes the throne with support from the Percy household who he then quarrels with, sparking a civil war. Meanwhile, Henry IV’s rakish son, Prince Hal, offers an entertaining parallel story complete with drunks, bar maids, thieves, and the endlessly amusing Falstaff.

The show really does have all the requirements of blockbuster status. As Mr. Barrow, said, “It’s got lots of humor, romance, action, political intrigue, and…amazing swordfights. It’s kind of ‘The Matrix,’ ‘The Hangover,’ and ‘The West Wing’ on one ten thousandth of the budget.”

Mr. Barrow said that the cast is a really talented crew of actors who inspired the concept of this production. Jonah Lipsky, who also performed in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the amphitheater, plays Prince Hal. As Henry IV and “the hostess,” Chelsea McCarthy brings a charged emotional energy. Paul Padua is hilarious as the insufferable Falstaff and Mac Young, who plays Hotspur, is mesmerizing in the fight scenes.

The audience is privy to some of the “behind the scenes” pieces of the production: actors play multiple roles, some of the costume changes occur on set, and actors who are awaiting their scene watch from the side of the stage. The result is a feeling of camaraderie between the audience and the actors as the audience’s imagination is employed in the creation of the story. Director, cast, and crew found truth in the adage, necessity is the mother of invention. At one point the sheriff comes to a “door,” which is made by the actors themselves as they each hold a piece of wood in place, doorknob and all.

Other choices, like actors racing past the amphitheater seats during chase and fight scenes, bring the audience even deeper into the action. The show is full of physical energy and the climactic battle at Shrewsbury exposes this energy at its peak. The entire cast comes from the woods, marching rhythmically into battle and, with a resounding “Huh!” emerges on stage frozen in a battle scene. The cast begins to fight: smacking their bamboo poles, leaping in defense, and grimacing with pain and effort.

By this time in the play the sun is not shining quite as brightly through the trees. In an outdoor performance, the light itself plays a role. There were fortuitous moments where a dapple of yellow light shown just perfectly on the face of a cast member as he spoke. As it is Shakespeare, the speeches were numerous. Cast members rolled the flowery and complex language over their tongues, in most cases with ease.

At the end of the show the echo of clanging swords rings out through the woods, a kazoo sounds off stage, and the cast stands in a line. With another resounding “Hutt!” they bow to the clapping of the audience. People pack food away in their coolers, snap their beach chairs closed, and march up the pathway through the woods, back to State Road and in time for the beginning of sunset.

“Henry 4” runs Wednesdays through Saturdays at 5 pm through August 17 at the Tisbury Amphitheater, located at the Tashmoo Overlook in Vineyard Haven. Tickets can be purchased at the door with cash only. The show is $20 for adults and $10 for ages 25 and under. Visit for more information.