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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Forewarned that William Shakespeare's least appreciated and least likely to be produced play Henry VIII was also the recipient of some judicious pruning didn't alarm me. As I wasn't nearly as familiar with the text as compared to the rest of the canon, no alarm bell went off to suggest that possibly some really good stuff was not to be shared with those who love the history plays, this being the last of them and the one presumably responsible for the destruction of the Globe Theater.
As for that other remark once made by some scholar — "If all the plays attributed to Shakespeare were not, in fact, written by him they were at least written by someone just as good." — I am obliged to add: If the current Shakespeare Theatre production of Henry VIII doesn't end up on your must see list then you are likely going to miss one of the highlights of the New Jersey theatre season.
Henry VIII may not be considered top drawer Shakespeare, but director Paul Mullins has pulled out all the stops to make sure that the play's most powerful and most poignant scenes stand out prominently and decisively within a chronicle that has been accused of being unwieldy.
Mullins has exerted the kind of directorial muscle that has succeeded in making this play, mostly comprised of ceremonial whining and woeing into a genuinely compelling drama. With the cuts, it is a grand and gripping entertainment, filled with impassioned speechifying and fueled by invigorating conspiratorial deceits.
While history tells us that a shot from a canon in the revelry scene is supposed to have caused the burning down of the Globe in 1613, there are bursts of dramatic fire coming regularly and with fervor from the key actors as they marshal their way through the regality, the pageantry and, of course, the plot. The play's finale, the birth of Elizabeth, is touching, but it is also breathtaking thanks to the sumptuous costumes designed by Hugh Hanson. The costumes may be eye-filling treat, but I suspect you will be keeping a close watch on the hedonistic, irrational King Henry, as played with a devilish glint in his roving eye by the excellent David Fouber.
A kind of marriage-go-round as Henry strays from the tender and fearless nobility that marks Queen Katherine into the arms of her lovely gentle and younger maid of honor Anne Bullen (well-acted by a beautiful Katie Wieland). The play is also dominated by more final farewells than even Sarah Bernhardt ever thought of giving. The most powerful and poignantly come from Thomas Michael Hammond, as the gentle Duke of Buckingham, Philip Goodwin as the arrogant, duplicitous Cardinal Wolsey and a sublime Jessica Wortham, as the loyal and steadfast to the last Katherine.
The handsome unit setting designed by Charlie Calvert is enhanced by the atmospheric lighting by Michael Giannitti, the effective sound by Steven L. Beckel and the lively choreography by Gerry McIntyre. It gives credence to the importance of artistic collaboration, a time-honored aspect of theater, something that Shakespeare, with or without the help of John Fletcher (as it is conjectured about this play) knew quite well as a man of the theater.
Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show
Slings & Arrows-the complete set
You don't have to be a Shakespeare aficionado to love all 21 episodes of this hilarious and moving Canadian TV series about a fictional Shakespeare Company