MADISON, NJ – Leave it to director Paul Mullins to bring a sharp, vivid interpretation of the rarely performed “Henry VIII” to The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey stage.
It’s crystal clear from the get-go that the power plays are intricate and convoluted. The dukes ‘duke it out’ (Buckingham, Norfolk and Suffolk), while the religious figures have their own ups and downs. We have Cardinal Wolsey (Philip Goodwin) being deposed and replaced by Thomas Cranmer. Cardinal Campeius is also on hand, along with various Lords and ladies.
David Foubert is a robust; if egotistical, King Henry VIIII. His disappointment is visible when he learns that Ann Bullen (Katie Wieland) has produced a daughter, not a son. Still, that birth gives the play it’s brilliant, regal ending, as Cranmer (Clark Scott Carmichael) holds the babe in his arms and predicts the huge impact that Elizabeth I will have on the future of England. The program notes that William Shakespeare’s spelling of names has been retained for this production.
Earlier in the play, Henry wants to divorce the long-suffering Queen Katherine (Jessica Wortham) as she has not produced a male heir. Wortham is emotional and empathetic in her fight for survival and ultimate illness.
The plot thickens, as they say, when Henry realizes Wolsey’s deceit and forces him to give up his lands and possessions. He is replaced by Sir Thomas More as Lord Chancellor, while Thomas Cranmer is named the new Archbishop of Canterbury.
Blythe Coons as Prudence brings a zest for life to her interpretation of Anne’s friend and co-hort. Mathew Simpson is Thomas Cromwell, always ready to step in and smooth the waters. Thomas Michael Hammond as Duke of Buckingham opens the play, denouncing Cardinal Wolsey. Unfortunately, he is sent to the Tower of London and so much for that fine performance. The entire cast, in fact, is top-notch, even to the most limited roles.
The simple scenic design by Charlie Calvert reflects the period, with a portrait of Anne Bullen on one side and a medieval scene on the other. Hugh Hanson’s costumes display richness in velvets and furs. Gerry McIntyre’s choreography is delightful in the Act I dance sequence at the masked ball with the swirling skirts of the women and intricate steps of the men.
Just seeing the regal coronation scene, when Anne becomes queen, displays how that sense of pageantry and grandeur is conveyed with music, creating the illusion on the modest stage of a much larger event. That, too, must be a reflection of director Mullins’ vision.
Performances of “Henry VIII” continue at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, located on the Drew University campus in Madison, through Nov. 9. For tickets, call (973) 408-5600 or visit ShakespeareNJ.org.
‘Henry VIIII’ Roars into Life at Shakespeare Theatre in Madison
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