Hollywood Gathers to Support Tom Hanks, Shakespeare Center of L.A. in 'Henry IV' Performance

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Rita Wilson and Martin Short

Hanks' wife, Rita Wilson, and actors Lily Rabe, Martin Short and more came out Saturday night to see the three-hour production put on by the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles and the West Los Angeles VA.

Tucked away in the depths of the 387-acre West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Campus, guests gathered Saturday under the twinkling lights in the Japanese Garden for the opening night of Henry IV. Against a backdrop of bamboo, adjacent to a quaint duck pond, Tom Hanks made his L.A. debut as Lord Falstaff, and his fellow actors came out in support.

"I’d come to see Shakespeare anywhere," Lily Rabe, who was there to support both Hanks and her partner Hamish Linklater (who plays Prince Harry), told The Hollywood Reporter. "I’m so happy it’s in L.A."

Rabe was joined by Hanks’ wife, Rita Wilson, and Martin Short for a traditional Shakespearean dinner featuring roasted chicken and mulled cider before the show. Other guests included Sam Waterston, Finn Wittrock and Glenn Howerton.

The Shakespeare comedy, originally broken into two parts, follows King Henry IV’s defiant son, Prince Harry, as he grows from a rebellious young man to a king of England throughout his father’s reign. Tony Award-winning director Dan Sullivan condensed the two parts into a three-hour production for this performance, so that the audience could experience the entire story in one night.

"I think I enjoyed it more because I was relaxed enough to really enjoy it," Wilson told THR after watching the performance for the second time since previews began. "I could appreciate it more in a sense and not have to worry like, 'Oh, I hope it’s good.'"

Both Wilson and Hanks are longtime supporters of the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, and have been involved for over 25 years. The couple participates in SCLA’s annual benefit, Simply Shakespeare, every year.

Hanks elicited near-constant laughter from the audience from the moment he stumbled onstage as the famous knight. According to Sullivan, Hanks was apparently "a little surprised" to be asked to play the role of Falstaff, but Wilson told THR she never questioned it.

"I think he can do anything," she said. "He got his start in Shakespeare, and he’s just a natural at it."

From lighting to costume design, the entire Henry IV production was built and is staffed by over 35 veterans.

"It means a new chance for a lot of them and just empowerment and coming back to their mission and who they really are at their root," Tess Banko, executive director of the UCLA VA Veteran Family Wellness Center, told THR. "It gives them back meaning and purpose."

Additionally, over 2,000 tickets will be made available at no charge to veterans and active military members and their families. The show began with a presentation of colors and ended with a salute to all active and former military personnel.

"It’s such an incredible organization," Rabe said of the Shakespeare Center, "what they’re doing supporting the VA and bringing Shakespeare to Los Angeles. Having spent so much of my life going to Shakespeare in New York outside and doing Shakespeare in New York outside, to sit in L.A. and watch it outside just seems like, 'Oh, this is right. This should be happening.'"

Henry IV runs through July 1.