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A King and Two Gents Are This Year's Offerings at the Houston Shakespeare Festival

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Years ago, Mirron Willis was one of the supernummeries - "the attendant to the far left" - during the Houston Shakespeare Festival.

This week, he returns as a king in the title role of one of William Shakespeare's greatest plays Henry IV Part I. Although Henry IV is considered one of Shakespeare's history plays, Willis says its greatest and enduring appeal is "all of the relationships. The transformation of the son [Prince Hal] to go from the adolescent to the sense of responsibility." (And let's not forget Falstaff and all the college debates there have been over whether he was betrayed by Hal or had to be discarded for the prince to grow into his kingly duties.)

Willis, who has returned to Crockett, Texas after a stage and film career in California and New York, also plays a duke in the companion piece at this year's festival: The Two Gentlemen of Verona, one of - if not the - earliest works by the English playwright.

Brandon Fox, who is directing the "comic drama", said he found something to like about this play, considered by many critics to be a starter course for Shakespeare who would employ similar though more developed strategies (including thwarted love, disguises and females posing as males) in later plays.

"This isn't King Lear or focused on older people. This is a young play by a young playwright about young people.," Fox notes. "It's about four people trying to figure out who they are. They're very book smart but not necessarily life smart. They make choices that we might roll our eyes at or cover our faces. We have all been guilty of making those choices when we were in high school or college."

The play has been reset in the 1930s complete with jazz music of the era and there's even a live dog on stage which Fox promises "will be fun for the audience."

Performances in repertory for the Houston Shakespeare Festival run August 1 through10 at 8:30 p.m. Miller Outdoor Theatre, Two Gentlemen of Verona: August 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9. Henry IV, Part 1: August 2, 6, 8 and 10. Free, assigned seat tickets are available at the Miller Theatre Box Office, 6000 Hermann Park Drive on a first-come first-serve basis while supplies last between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on the day of the performance. Only four (4) tickets per person age 16 and up. For information, call 281-373-3386 or visit milleroutdoortheatre.com.

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