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British Embassy Players - ARCHIVE

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March 31 - April 5, 2003
Royal Gambit

Reviewed April 2
Running time 2 hours 15 minutes

Part history, part philosophy, part romantic drama – Hermann Gressieker’s play tries to cover an awful lot of ground in a short time. In director Barry Hoffman’s hands, it accomplishes much of what it sets out to do, providing an interesting if not completely satisfying evening in a stylish production in the rotunda of the British Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue

Storyline: The six wives of Henry VIII interact with each other as the chronology of Henry’s long reign spins out. His drive for a male heir, his gigantic appetites and his ego are all factors in the succession of wives. His machinations to free himself of each in order to go on to the next cause key events in the political and social history of the western world.

The first act is essentially a history piece with some theatrical touches such as having an introduction with all six wives, alive and well at the same time, describing their attraction to the man and their function in his rein. Only after establishing their characters is Henry introduced and then it is in the full flower of his randy youth. The second act, on the other hand, is more a philosophical examination of his impact on the future of western society. Gressieker puts the case that, in breaking away from the Catholic Church under the Pope and setting up the Anglican Church under the King, and by asserting the right to define morality, Henry took a medieval society of subservience to immutable principals into a modern morass in which, as Katarina of Aragon says “Man created heaven and earth.”

Henry in this case is Dan Owen. While he doesn’t manage to convey all of the energy, vitality and drive that the man must have had to accomplish all that he did, he does provide a solid core for the six ladies to play to, off of and around. It is the ladies who are the strength of the production with Eileen Kent a standout as she goes from constrained and repressed wife to satisfied and even liberated former wife. Edna Boyle is very good as Anna of Cleves, Henry’s German Protestant pairing and Patricia Kratzer allows the role of Kate Parr to grow to be Henry’s comfort in old age. All six are very good indeed.

The functionally minimal set works well in the Rotunda space. Whether it is the acoustics of the rotunda of the uniformly excellent projection of the seven performers, every word of this rather wordy piece was clearly understandable. The costume work of Joan Roseboom is particularly notable as she subtly moves the wives from the sumptuous pre-Elizabethan court dress toward more modern garb. The progression of costumes mirrors and supports the evolution of Gressieker’s script which ends with distinctly modern discussions of geopolitics, physics, astrophysics and theology.

Written by Hermann Gressieker. Translated and adapted by George White. Directed by Barry Hoffman. Design; John Nicol and Joan Roseboom (set) Joan Roseboom (costumes) Don Slater (lights) David Steigerwald (sound) James Archie, Jr. (stage manager). Cast: Dan Owen, Eileen Kent, Edna Boyle, Patricia Kratzer, Tina Segovia, Karen Lawrence, Cate Brewer.