Monday, December 16, 2013

A Regal Production of Shakespeare's "Henry VIII" Presented by Actors' Shakespeare Project

Henry VIII (Allyn Burrows) and Cardinal Wolsey (Robert Walsh)
Photo by Stratton McCrady

This has been a particularly rich and Shakespeare-filled few months for me.

  • In London in October, I saw a memorable production of "Much Ado About Nothing" at the Old Vic starring James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave: Going Gaga Over My Trip to Europe
  • I saw a preview performance of the current Lincoln Center production of "Macbeth," with Ethan Hawke in the title role and my good friend, Jonny Orsini, in the role of Malcolm.
  • I took in and reviewed the F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company's production of the same play:  Blog Review of "Macbeth"
  • I was privileged to catch the magic currently being created in NYC by "Twelfth Night" starring Mark Rylance  (More details to follow)
  • Finally, yesterday afternoon, I was transported to the court of King Henry VIII by the incredibly talented ensemble of Actors' Shakespeare Project.
The play, running through January 5, 2014 at the Modern Theatre at Suffolk University, is a sumptuous feast for the eyes and ears.  The set designed by Janie E. Howland and the lush costumes designed by Tyler Kinney invite one to forget the snow and slush of Boston's streets and imagine being a fly on the wall in the court of King Henry VIII in all its splendor and intrigue.  The quality of the acting and the production values in this play matched those I recently experienced at Lincoln Center!

This is one of Shakespeare's plays I had not seen before, so I was rapt to find out just how the Bard had handled telling the story of Henry and his very unmerry wives.  Cardinal Wolsey plays a central role in this drama, as does about-to-be-deposed Queen Katherine.  The roles of church, state and the need for a male heir for Henry are themes that the author has interwoven with his usual flair for language, action and emotion.  He also shamelessly pays homage to his patroness, Elizabeth I.

Director Tina Packer  has drawn together an ensemble cast that has no weak links.  The acting is universally superb.throughout the play.

Featuring ASP company members:
Allyn Burrows* - King Henry VIII
Johnnie McQuarley - Cromwell, Commoner
Bobbie Steinbach* - Fool
Michael Forden Walker*- Norfolk
Robert Walsh* - Cardinal Wolsey

Additional Cast:
Tamara Hickey* - Queen Katherine
Ross MacDonald* - Lovell, Surveyor
Craig Mathers* - Buckingham, Cardinal Campeius, Dr. Butts
Kathryn Myles - Anne Boleyn
Omar Robinson - Chamberlain

Each of the actors commanded the stage and the Elizabethan language as if they owned them.  Standing out among this stellar cast were the following:

  • Bobbie Steinbach opens and closes the proceedings and oversees all of the intervening drama as the Fool. She is magnificent in this role, mingling mirth, gravitas and the folk wisdom that characterizes most of Shakespeare's Fools.
  • In his scarlet robes that billow about him and behind him - and yet fail to cover his devious machinations - Robert Walsh is the very embodiment of Cardinal Wolsey.  The lighting and make-up  serve to present him to the audience as almost alabaster in complexion, belying the darkness of his soul and of his intentions.  His performance was riveting and flawless, and was particularly moving as he devolved from righteous hauteur to despair at having been literally defrocked.
  • Allyn Burrows' King Henry is the glue that holds this production together.  Lacking the characteristic physicality and gargantuan appetites that we have come to associate with Henry VIII, Burrows relied on his considerable acting tools to create an imposing figure.  What he lacked in girth he more than made up for in grit and grandeur.  His Henry is both a troubled and sympathetic figure.
Queen Katherine (Tamara Hickey), Cardinal Campeius (Craig Mathers)
and Cardinal Wolsey (Robert Walsh)

Photo by Stratton McCrady
  • As Queen Katherine, Tamara Hickey projects the fragile beauty of a china doll, yet the force of her will and her courage in the face of her husband's rejection speak much louder and more eloquently than her frail frame. In this role, she is the very soul of both regalness and vulnerability.  Her performance in this role is deeply touching.
  • Craig Mathers is protean in the breadth of the emotions he portrays in the many roles that he undertakes so convincingly in this drama.
Mr. Burrows also serves as the Artistic Director of this company.  He has given the Boston arts community a huge gift in creating a vehicle for presenting the classics on a regular basis with the highest possible level of professionalism and artistry.

This is a theatre company and a production worthy of your support and applause. Give yourself and some special friends and family members an early Christmas gift; buy some tickets and feast on Henry VIII!

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