HENRY VIIIBy William Shakespeare
Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Directed by Richard Stubblefield
Stage Managers: Jennifer Stewart and LeeAnn Ducker
Costume Designer: Lauren Morgan
Set Designer: Jason and Lauren Morgan
Master Carpenter: Caleb Pieterse
Props Designer: Jennifer Stewart
Light Designer: Bryan Douglas
Props Artisan: Jean Jeske
Sound Designer: Jennifer Stewart and Jason Morgan
Set Building Crew: D. Aidan Wright, Jason Morgan, Lauren Morgan, Jennifer Stewart, Caleb Pieterse, Becky Badger, and Kierstin Curtis
Costume Crew: Lauren Morgan and Julie Molina
Duke of Buckingham: Andrew Manning**
Duke of Norfolk: Tyler Shults**
Lord Abergevanny: Tony Spurgin
Cardinal Wolsey: Michael Johnson
Charles Brandon: Blake Hametner
Gardiner: Nolan Chapa
King Henry VIII: Carter Frost
Queen Katherine: Karen Matheny**
Buckingham’s Surveyor: Bradford Smith
Lord Chamberlain: Bert Pigg*
Lord Sandys: Andrew Wright
Sir Thomas Lovell: Adam Kullman
Sir Harry Guilford: Jonathan Vineyard
Anne Bullen: Jessica Taylor**
Denny: Andrew Beckman
First Lady: Callie Cunnigham
Second Lady: Marisa Duran
Suffolk: Terry Yates**
Cardinal Campeius: Jonathan Vineyard
Waiting Lady: Sonia Justl
Duke of Surrey, son in law to Buckingham: TJ Bowlin
Thomas Cromwell: Blake Hametner
Third Lady: Jenna Caire
Griffith: Matt Nugent**
Thomas Crammer, Archbishop of Anglican Church: Nolan Shaver
Doctor Butts: John Valos Lowe
Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas More: Michael Rains
Porter: Bradford Smith
Porter’s Assistant: Tony Spurgin
*Member of Actors Equity Association
**SSG Ensemble Member
Reviewed Performance: 2/16/2019
Reviewed by Ann Saucer, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The play opens with a delightful prologue, in which the cast breaks the fourth wall, some while still lacing up their glorious Elizabethan costumes.
The Duke of Buckingham (Andrew Manning) receives a description of the “fierce vanities” displayed by the King of England and Emperor of France. We learn that the superfluous and fruitless golden pomp had been orchestrated by Cardinal Wolsey (Michael Johnson), a man with his finger in every pie and a powerful advisor to King Henry VIII (Carter Frost). Buckingham is warned by his friends that he has unwisely made an enemy of the Cardinal, but Buckingham nonetheless intends to tell the King that the Cardinal does “buy and sell his honor” to “his own advantage.”
At court, Queen Katherine (Karen Matheny) speaks truth to power as she explains to her husband that a tax imposed by Cardinal Wolsey is starving the citizenry. Cardinal Wolsey, marvelously played by Michael Johnson, eloquently huffs that he has been traduced. Here and consistently, Matheny and Johnson show their star power in a very talented cast. Both show range and command the stage as their characters make tumultuous journeys from positions of power to diametrically opposite falls from favor.
Buckingham is the first in the roller coaster of people in the orbit of the King who is accused and discarded. Manning’s performance is perfect: he lets us know that Buckingham is a good man falsely accused.
Our understanding of Buckingham’s essential goodness is important in illustrating how reality shifts in King Henry VIII’s court. The wise and eloquent Queen Katherine, among others, know that Buckingham is falsely accused (she points out the conflict of interest of his accuser), but we see how their knowledge and wisdom escape them. Stolen Shakespeare's Henry VIII shows us two parallel universes: the reality people can see for themselves versus the reality imposed by the feckless King’s passions. At one point, a counsel is trying to reason through weighty theological issues, but Thomas Cranmer (well played by Nolan Shaver) presents the King’s ring, which Henry has given to him for this purpose. The truth is not the truth; the King – his will – is the truth. The holder of the ring wins solely because he holds the ring.
We see the danger when truth becomes malleable. Cardinal Wolsey is mendacious and ambitious, both a fox and a wolf. He plants lies in the King’s ear to dispense with adversaries, replaces a competent advisor to the King with a toady, and all the while amasses a fortune that Wolsey plans to use to bribe his way to the papacy. Inevitably, revelatory materials end up in the King’s hands, and Wolsey’s backstabbing becomes impossible for the deluded King not to see. Johnson does justice to riveting dialogue, including the woeful, “I have touched the highest point of all my greatness.” When he pleads that he has labored for the King, we hear an element of the truth.
King Henry VIII is by turn lustful, paranoid, short-tempered, scarily furious, occasionally duped, and manipulated through flattery. Yet, throughout, all in his orbit allow their understanding of reality to bend to his will. He wants to ditch his loyal and devoted wife of twenty years for a sweet young thing? It’s only because of his pious devotion to God; he would have stood by the age-appropriate mother of his children, but a Frenchman asked him whether their daughter Mary is illegitimate because Katherine was first betrothed to Henry’s late brother, and so he must get an annulment – you know, for the Lord. Throughout this fascinating play, on these and other issues, the citizenry grapples with the necessity of admiring the clothes on a naked King.
As the eponymous ruler, Carter Frost is exquisitely convincing. His mercurial character’s lightening-fast mood swings are sometimes scary. And yet, when he appears on the second story gushing with delight over has newborn daughter, we are convinced he can be trusted holding a baby. It’s a marvelous performance that brings to full life a world that revolves around the whims and passions of one man.
The play features one good performance after another, including Tyler Shults as the well-spoken Duke of Norfolk, the commanding Bert Pigg as Lord Chamberlain, the hilarious Sonia Justl as she jokes with Anne Bullen (Jessica Taylor), and the scene-stealing TJ Bowlin as the Duke of Surrey. Taylor charms as Anne Bullen, the home-wrecker whom Shakespeare took pains to portray as a well-meaning innocent.
I had seen Henry VIII at the Globe in London in June 2010, and mistakenly thought that the play was obscure and relatively weak because political necessity forced Shakespeare to white-wash Henry VIII’s behavior – particularly as it relates to Queen Elizabeth’s mother. Thanks to the Stolen Shakespeare Guild, I now understand that I failed to appreciate the play. Shakespeare may have been compelled by political necessity, but he wrote a play about political necessity. I wrongly assumed that the plot was disjoined because of the changing cast of main characters (other than the eponymous King), but that’s the very point of the personality Shakespeare brings us in Henry VIII. The people most important to him come and go because people are disposable to him, and thus a revolving door of people cycle through his life.
The company earns a perfect score on auditory accessibility. I took my thirteen year-old daughter. She thoroughly enjoyed it and could understand the dialogue.
The Stolen Shakespeare Guild does a great job all around. The functional, two-story set incorporates elements of Tudor architecture, with artistically rendered touches that include crossed wooden beams, painted reproduction of wood flooring, and stones set over an archway. The lighting design allows for numerous changes in the actors’ location and setting. The sound design shifted the settings as well, as for example through traditional Elizabethan music and the cheerful chirping of birds on a perfect day. The Elizabethan period costumes are voluptuous, and immediately bring to mind iconic images, such as Henry VIII’s velvet feather hat. The gorgeous costumes also featured brocade, jewels, chains, velvet, chiffon, and fur trim.
I highly recommend this production. Whether you are a Shakespeare fan or need your first introduction to the Bard, this is a golden opportunity to see a little-performed work that has been brilliantly interpreted and timely staged.
Stolen Shakespeare Festival, “The Tudors”
Henry VIII by William Shakespeare
Fort Worth Community Arts Center
February 15 through March 2, 2019
1300 Gendy Street, Fort Worth, TX 76107
For information call (866) 811-4111 or go to http://stolenshakespeareguild.org/.