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.
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
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.
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.