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A CurtainUp Review
A Man For All Seasons

The law is not a "light" for you or any man to see by; the law is not an instrument of any kind. The law is a causeway upon which, so long as he keeps to it, a citizen may walk safely... In matters of conscience, the loyal subject is more bounden to be loyal to his conscience than to any other thing. —Sir Thomas More to Oliver Cromwell —
Michael Countryman (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)
Robert Bolt's historical biodrama about Sir Thomas More, A Man For All Seasons is a thoughtful, verbose drama where tension lies in the intellectual beliefs of the 16th century political-social zeitgeist instead of swashbuckling swordplay. It earned honors for the elegant Paul Scofield in the original 1960 production and in 2008, earned praise for the charismatic Frank Langella (Curtainup's review of that production). Unfortunately, this off-Broadway production by Fellowship for Performing Arts, fails to capture the colorful fascination of the era or the absorbing philosophical heart of the play.

Michael Countryman portrays Sir Thomas More, a low-keyed scholarly lawyer with deep religious beliefs. For him, Catholicism rules. It overwhelms his loyalty to country, the King and even his love for his family— including his favored daughter, Margaret (Kim Wong) and wife, Lady Alice, played with a loving playfulness by Carolyn McCormick. With a dry mild manner, Countryman is convincing as the statesman, proved that when faced with defending his beliefs and the law, he chooses to follow his moral convictions.

Director Christa Scott-Reed steers the play with forthright nonchalance, choosing to include the occasionally unused character of Common Man (Harry Bouvy), to break the fourth wall and talk to the audience. Bouvy is a cunning narrator/character actor, portraying various incidental commoners, a waiter, an innkeeper, a man servant. While informative and often witty, Common Man is not mandatory to this production and he extends the play's length without adding import.

More's problems begin when he meets with King Henry VIII's Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey (John Ahlin) who asks More to support a letter about to be send to Rome, asking the Pope to approve the King's desire to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon because never bore him a son. Henry is willing to break with the Roman Catholic Church, so he can marry a young fertile Anne Boleyn. More refuses to swear to the request. "I believe, when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties... they lead their country by a short route to chaos. And we shall have my prayers to fall back on." This was not quite what the Cardinal wanted to hear.

When Cardinal Wolsey dies suddenly, More becomes the new Lord Chancellor and his troubles begin. King Henry VIII is portrayed by Trent Dawson as a gregarious egotist, demanding loyalty and ready to exact revenge. His fixer is Thomas Cromwell, brilliant, ambitious and scheming as played by Todd Cerveris, urging More to betray his religious beliefs. He is aided by The Duke of Norfolk (Kevyn Morrow), once More's friend but loyal to the Kin, and offering Cromwell information about a presumed bribe.

When More is jailed in the Tower and brought before the court on charges of high treason, he declares, "The King in Parliament cannot bestow the Supremacy of the Church because it is a Spiritual Supremacy!!" He is convicted and sentenced to be beheaded.

In this production, not only do we miss the economic ostentation of historical extravagance but creative staging. Steven C. Kemp's grim staging of concrete walls and heavy wooden furniture depends on side panels to indicate different locales. Theresa Squire's costumes resemble fabric swags and discounted accessories— not quite delineating the economic haves and have-nots of the era.

This revival is produced by a Christian based company, Fellowship for Performing Arts, and indeed the play's hero, Sir Thomas More, is a man of Catholic conscience. However, the play has proven to be stirring to watch and appreciate by theater goers of any or no religion. As playwright Robert Bolt points out "This account of him [Thomas More] developed as I wrote: what first attracted me was a person who could not be accused of any incapacity for life, who indeed seized life in great variety and almost greedy quantities, who nevertheless found something in himself without which life was valueless and when that was denied him was able to grasp his death." You have to admire such a man.

Despite its relevance, this this revival lacks the theater qualities to rivet an audience.

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A Man For All Seasons by Robert Bolt
Director: Christa Scott-Reed
Cast: Michael Countryman (Sir Thomas More), Carolyn McCormick (Lady Alice), John Ahlin, Kevyn Morrow, Trent Dawson, David McElwee, Todd Cerveris, Kim N. Wong, Sean Dugan, Harry Bouvy
Set Design: Steven C. Kemp
Costume Design: Theresa Squire
Lighting Design: Aaron Porter
Original Music and Sound Design: John Gromada
Stage Manager: Kelly Burns
Produced: Fellowship for Performing Arts
Running Time: Two hours, 30 min. One intermission.
Acorn Theater, 410 W. 42 St. Theater Row
Tues,Thurs. at 7 PM; Wed. at 2pm. Fri., at 8pm. Sat, 2pm & 8pm. Sun at 3pm.
Previews: 1/11/19. Open3e: 1/23/19. Closing: 2/24/19.
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors based on performance 01/24/19

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