Reviewed by Judy Richter
The first of these first impressions comes at the very beginning, when Liz Sklar's Anne Boleyn comes across as a teasing flirt. As the 2010 play continues, however, she's a deeper, far more complex character in Sklar's tour de force performance.
The same holds true for King James I, seen between 1603 and 1604. Well played by Craig Marker, this Scot, the son of Mary Queen of Scots and a descendant of England's Henry VII, seems like a crude buffoon at first. Yes, he is that, but he's far more. Crafty and savvy, he nevertheless seems to have the good of England at heart.
Action shifts from his court to 1527 to 1536 during the reign of King Henry VIII, also played by Marker. Henry wants a male heir, but his wife, the unseen Catherine of Aragon, has not granted his wish.
Instead he turns his attention to Anne, seen as a ghost at the beginning and now the real woman. He hopes she can give him a son, but first he must persuade the Roman Catholic Church to annul his marriage, not an easy task.
Other characters can be deceptive, too, in this drama of shifting allegiances, political-religious power struggles and betrayals. However, self-interest rather than religion seems to be the most powerful motivator for most of these characters at the start of the Protestant Reformation and the eventual creation of the King James version of the Bible.
Jasson Minadakis skillfully directs a talented ensemble cast of 10 actors, several of whom play multiple roles in one or both kings' courts.
Perhaps the wiliest character is Thomas Cromwell (David Ari), the chief adviser to Henry, who shifts allegiances with no compunction. He also plays George Villiers , King James' lover.
Other principal actors are Charles Shaw Robinson, who plays Lord Robert Cecil in James' court and the scheming, vengeful Cardinal Wolsey in Henry's. Arwen Anderson plays Lady Jane Rochford, Anne's lady-in-waiting.
Completing the cast in multiple roles are Ryan Tasker, Howard Swain, Dan Hiatt, Carrie Lyn Brandon and Lauren Spencer.
Unless one is well versed in English history of the time, some of the issues might not be crystal clear.
However, it is clear that Anne and Henry were married, resulting in England's break from Catholicism and the establishment of the Church of England. It's also clear that Anne had enemies who plotted against her and lied about her, leading the king to have her beheaded. In addition, articles in the program and a display in the lobby are informative.
Adding to the success of this production are the design elements. The simple but effective set is by Nina Ball with lighting by Kurt Landisman and sound by Theodore J.H. Hulsker. Kudos to Ashley Holvick for the costumes.
This is the play's West Coast premiere and only the second American production. Because it is so well written, intriguing and entertaining, it's sure to find success elsewhere in the country. It runs about two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission.
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