Theater review:

A welcome revival for 'Anne of the Thousand Days' at Chesapeake Shakespeare

Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
Chesapeake Shakespeare Company spotlights a rich guy who grabs, kisses and bad-mouths women. (Not THAT guy.)

He possesses wealth and yields power, surrounded by people devoted to helping him expand both. He likes to eat, and it shows. He grabs at women, force-kisses them if he desires, and, when they annoy him, bad-mouths them vividly.

Yes, he's that inimitable English monarch Henry VIII (you didn't think I meant someone else, did you?), as depicted in Maxwell Anderson's "Anne of the Thousand Days," a 1948 play enjoying an effective revival by Chesapeake Shakespeare Company.

This isn't the most historically faithful examination of the relationship between Henry and Anne Boleyn, the singular woman who managed to control him, however briefly. But the drama deftly humanizes this impetuous pair as it explores the circumstances that brought them together and drove them apart.

Anderson treats his subjects at times as if they were precursors to the quarrelsome couple in "The Taming of the Shrew," which Shakespeare would pen six decades after Boleyn's beheading.

Some of the verbal and physical parrying feels forced, but the zingers that fly between the two certainly give the characters considerable color. A sample of Anne dissing Henry: "You make love as you eat — with a good deal of noise and no subtlety."

The playwright gets to the heart of the king's obsessive need for a male heir — which would gnaw at him through several more wives — but also lets us see the warmer, boyish side of Henry.

Although Anne is revealed to be capable of love, her awareness of how the game is played in a royal court keeps her always on guard. She knows what she's doing when she demands that Henry put a ring on it — no mere mistress status for her; no bastard tag for the child she was carrying before they wed (the future Elizabeth I). Nothing short of queendom would do.

Add in the break with Rome after the Pope's refusal to annul Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and the trumped-up charges that would send Anne to the execution block, and there are more than enough issues and incidents to make for good theater.

Director Kasi Campbell, who has guided many a notable production for Rep Stage, makes an admirable Chesapeake Shakespeare debut, drawing out the strengths in "Anne of the Thousand Days" and in her cast. (That cast does not attempt British accents, by the way. These Tudors sound comfortably American.)

Campbell is aided in this briskly paced production by the company's first all-female technical and design team. The action unfolds smoothly on a stage stylishly designed by Kathryn Kawecki and subtly lit by Katie McCreary. Kristina Lambdin's costumes aren't the only things evoking time and place — sound designer Sarah O'Halloran makes great use of music composed by, or attributed to, Henry VIII.

Lizzi Albert makes an appealing Anne, especially in the flirtatious scene early on with Lord Percy (Gerrad Alex Taylor) and, later, at the moment when the bond with Henry suddenly strikes Anne as genuine. Albert handles Anne's temper tantrums quite convincingly, too.

As the king, Ron Heneghan romps and stomps, charms and harms in fittingly authoritative fashion. He might want to try a few more ways to move his hands and arms (the outstretched pose crops up too often), but there is a natural, telling flow to his acting. He easily brings out the vitality of Anderson's best writing in the play, notably Henry's second act monologue.

There are dynamic contributions from Gregory Burgess as wily Cardinal Wolsey, Yury Lomakin as uber-snake Thomas Cromwell, and Keith Snipes as the calculating Duke of Norfolk.

In addition to the taped soundtrack, several cast members step up gamely to make music at key parts in the play. Their singing might have some flaws, but none serious enough to warrant being sent to the Tower.

If you go

"Anne of the Thousand Days" runs through Nov. 13 at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 7 S. Calvert St. Tickets are $15 to $49. Call 410-244-8570, or go to chesapeakeshakespeare.com.

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