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Houston's own Shakespeare in the park centers around a likeable coward

Houston Shakespeare Festival 2014 Henry IV David Rainey
David Rainey as Falstaff in Houston Shakespeare Festival's production of Henry IV, Part 1. Photo by Forest Photography
Houston Shakespeare Festival 2014 Henry IV Mirron Willis
Mirron Willis plays the title character in this history play. Courtesy of Houston Shakespeare Festival

It may be that Sir John Falstaff is better known in the music world courtesy of Verdi's namesake opera than in the works of the character's creator. Shakespeare, who wrote the portly comedic knight into three plays but never as the principal role, is described as a big personality who talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk.

He's a coward.

Yet despite his character flaws, the archetypal figure that represents a society that lacks honor and a strong moral basis forces viewers to look inside to evaluate what inconsistencies may exist in their own convictions.

It may appear that the lighthearted character is easier to play than more dramatic personae, but actor David Rainey, who's cast as Falstaff in the 40th Annual Houston Shakespeare Festival's production of Henry IV, Part 1 at Miller Outdoor Theatre, says that the intensity required leaves him breathless by curtain call. It's a challenging undertaking.

 "Falstaff is completely ill equipped to handle the realities of war."

"As an actor, what I've been finding about Falstaff is that he's not that far removed from a child," Rainey tells CultureMap in a video interview. "When children want to eat, they cry. When children have to go to the bathroom, they just go.

"There's a duality in which he's obsessed with religion and being saved, and at the same time he's willing to do not very religious things."

Falstaff is the kind of coward who runs away from a fight only to return to brag about how brave he was.

"When Falstaff finally gets to battle, where it's really about fighting, winning and killing, where he's in a situation in which people are trying to hunt him down to kill him, Falstaff is completely ill equipped to handle the realities of war," Rainey adds. "But somehow we all want to come to his rescue.

"The mother in all of us comes out — and perhaps that's why he's such a likeable and popular character."

Watch the video above as CultureMap contributor Marcy de Luna chats with Rainey and checks out the preparations for the Houston Shakespeare Festival.

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The Houston Shakespeare Festival runs from Friday through Aug. 10 at Miller Outdoor Theatre with alternating performance of Henry IV, Part 1 and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Tickets are available for the theater's covered seating area. Availability on the hill is on a first come, first served basis.

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HTX Good Eats 2014