Plays of love and revenge in Philly

William Shakespeare’s famous works hit the stage of Philadelphia’s theater companies.

William Shakespeare’s famous works hit the stage of Philadelphia’s theater companies.


The works of William Shakespeare are legendary and have been performed throughout the world for centuries. So how does one take these well-known stories and make them relevant, entertaining and accessible? The Arden Theatre and Lantern Theater companies have the answer.

About a month ago, I attended the opening of the Arden’s new production of Romeo and Juliet. The classic plot has been repeated and adapted throughout the 20th century, so when new productions come along, they can have varying success. The Arden’s production, though, is a hit.

The energy in the house, as well as in the actors, was palpable. Matt Pfeiffer’s re-imagining of the classic tragedy felt fresh and effortless. Evan Jonigkeit, a Temple alumnus, created a feisty and youthful Romeo. Everything, from the costumes to the set, was familiar without being referential.

LanternTheaterCompany - Henry IV, Part I - Pryor-Henry2 (hi-res)BW
Courtesy Mark Gavin Peter Pryor as King Henry in the Latern Theater Company’s production of Henry IV, Part I.

On April 7, the Lantern will open its newest Shakespearean endeavor. After a highly successful production of Hamlet last season, the Lantern is returning to the prolific writer. This time it’s Henry IV Part I, a rarely produced historical drama about the rise and fall of the English king and his troubled son. The plot: Henry recently gained control of the throne from his cousin. Now, in addition to ambitious enemies, the king must battle for the soul of his son. All the while, Prince Hal is wrapped up in a group of thieving drunkards and prostitutes.

“In Shakespeare’s time, these history plays were extremely popular, the Elizabethan equivalent of the action-adventure film,” director Charles McMahon said. “Think Indiana Jones in iambic pentameter.”

Founded in 1994, the Lantern has also offered Richard III to Philadelphia audiences.

“The Henry IV plays and Richard III are terrific examples, full of mayhem and delightful villains,” McMahon said. “But in Henry IV, Shakespeare’s genius for deep insight into the human soul is unmatched. The characters are more complex, conflicted and completely drawn than in the other histories. With Prince Hal, Hotspur, Henry the King and comic masterpiece Jack Falstaff, Shakespeare has created a unique narrative universe that, once entered, cannot help but change us.”

The cast includes the versatile and talented Peter Pryor as Henry the King/Falstaff and Allen Radway as Prince Hal. Under McMahon’s direction, I’m confident Henry IV will have the same edge and determination as their previous productions.

From the Globe to Broad Street, William Shakespeare’s plays are not only interesting for their historical contexts; they are vital for the shaping of our future. Everyone should see as much of Shakespeare as possible, especially when the best of Philadelphia are offering his masterpieces so intelligently.

Romeo and Juliet runs through April 11 at The Arden Theatre Company, 40 N. Second St.

Henry IV Part I runs through May 2 at St. Stephen’s Theater, 923 Ludlow St.

Max McCormack can be reached at

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