Ben Bonefront playing Prince Hal, left, and Michael Winters as Falstaff in a scene from the Colorado Shakespeare Festival production of Henry IV. (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

Author: Clay Evans

Battles, comedy, intrigue … and Falstaff — ‘Henry IV, Part 1’ opens Friday, July 18

Perhaps it’s no surprise that “Henry IV, Part 1” is considered one of Shakespeare’s most sophisticated and entertaining plays, a favorite of audiences and critics alike literally since its first performance in 1600.

“It’s known as one of Shakespeare’s most accomplished histories, but it’s really about relationships,” says Sam Gregory, the award-winning Denver Center actor who plays the title role.

“This play has everything — family dynamics, battles, intrigue, and comedy,” says director Carolyn Howarth. “Falstaff is truly one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedic characters.”

The play is the second chapter in the four-play Henriad cycle, which the Colorado Shakespeare Festival began last summer with “Richard II.” It tells the story of the unquiet reign of Henry IV, who ascended to the throne after the murder of Richard II, and the gradual transformation of his wayward son, Prince Hal. As the play opens, Hal has become a “party boy” under the tutelage of the bawdy knight-advisor Falstaff, but in his struggles with his father he begins to see the gravity of what lies ahead for him.

The politics of division that lie at the heart of the story resonate deeply in the polarized America of the early 21st century. The relationship between Hal and Henry IV is sophisticated and subtle.

“It would be like being a fly on the wall for a conversation between former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush behind closed doors,” says Benjamin Bonenfant, playing Hal.

“Henry IV, Part 1” by William Shakespeare

Directed by Carolyn Howarth

When: July 18-Aug. 10 (full schedule)

Where: University Theatre (indoor), University Theatre building, University of Colorado Boulder

Tickets: $18 and up