Folger Theatre Henry VIIIBy Mark Lee Adams • Nov 5th, 2010 • Category: Reviews
Folger Elizabethan Theatre, Washington DC
Through November 28th
Reviewed October 27th, 2010
Wow! What a fabulous show! This is a must see production at Folger Theatre. From the costuming to the acting, from the set to the lighting, this is truly a memorable production of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII.
When you walk into the grand space at the Folger Shakespeare Library, it’s like walking back into time. Ok, the pit is not really a pit but the orchestra and balconies are resplendent with the antiquity of the days of William Shakespeare. The Folger Theatre Company makes it so easy for you to sit back and return to a time in history. To, in essence, feel real vibrancy of what it may have been like. Having this theatre presenting the time period and then come alive with some of the best Shakespearian actors you have no choice but to find yourself in the presence of Henry VIII himself as he was or could’ve been.
First, how wonderful to watch the actors perform in the costumes created by Tony Award-winning costume designer William Ivey Long. The costumes were breathtaking.
To quote an adaptive move by director Robert Richmond, “Shakespeare’s Henry VIII is usually conceived as a largescale epic drama, full of spectacle and pageantry. However, the creative team of this production found it equally compelling as a human story, a play about life as a monarch–full of political maneuvering and decision making. Our aim has been to focus on the private rather than the public and to take the audience through the keyhole into the back rooms to view these historical events. In doing so I was struck by an illustration in the Folger exhibition of Henry’s jester Will Sommers, and we decided to use his character, not well known but one who had been close to the king, as a portal into the story.”
I put this in this review as it best explains the use of a character not in the dramatis personae of Shakespeare’s play. It was a marvelous approach and allowed for the telling of this story in a style of Shakespeare that is preferred it seems. The real, down to earth emotions more prevalent in all of us today versus the old school of Shakespeare that were more concerned with the delivery of the rhythm of the iambic pentameter of his writings.
The play opens with the newly created character of Will Sommers played by Louis Butelli with versatility and charm and also with a constant connection to the audience. His many characters let us know this story was being told through his eyes. Very well done!
Ian Merrill Peakes as King Henry has one of the strongest forces of presence you’ll see on a Shakespearean stage. His command script is sublime and his talent to make it real to us all was very inspiring. He’s the kind of actor who’ll make you want to see more Shakespeare.
Naomi Jacobson was just perfect as Queen Katherine. She brought out the Royalty of her characters heritage and the purity of her characters heart. You’ll want to watch and marvel at her command of the iambic pentameter.
Stephen Patrick Martin is, as we have come to expect, an expert of his craft. His natural ability and talent to make all of his characters real and at the same time, so very different and apart from his other characters, is awe inspiring.
The rest of these very strong cast members are top-notch actors. I applaud your performances as well. They are: Nathan James Bennett as Secretary To The Cardinal/lord Chamberlain/cranmer, Anthony Cochrane as Cardinal Wolsey, Michael Glenn as Lord Sands/earl Of Surrey/gentleman, Karen Peakes as Anne Boleyn, Lawrence Redmond as Duke Of Norfolk, Todd Schofield as Duke Of Suffolk and Megan Steigerwald as Lady Of The Court.
This is a must see production. It is a breathtaking journey through the history of Henry VIII through the words of Shakespeare and the eyes of Will Sommers.
My fascination with Henry VIII started in my early childhood. I am originally from Hastings, a small seaside town on the southeast coast of England. and some 40 miles from Hever Castle, the family home of Anne Boleyn. As a boy I can remember being taken on trips every summer to this incredible castle, and Penhurst, used by Henry VIII when he went for wild boar and venison in the nearby Ashdown Forest –and, more recently, used as a shooting sight for The Other Anne Boleyn Girl. In a small boy’s imagination, Hever was just what a castle should look like., and playing for hours amidst the armor and the tapestries, as I was, it awakened my interest in this period of history.
Shakespeare’s Henry VIII is usually conceived as a large-scale epic drama, full of spectacle and pageantry. However, the creative team of this production found it equally compelling as a human story, a play about life as a monarch-full of political maneuvering and decision making. Our aim has been to focus on the private rather than the public and to take the audience through the keyhole into the back rooms to view these historical events. In doing so I was struck by an illustration in the Folger exhibition of Henry’s Jester Will Sommers, and we decided to use this character, not well known but one who had been close to the king, as a portal into history.
Folger Theatre is the perfect setting for such a jewel –box production. With its Elizabethan–styled décor, the period setting beautifully highlights a world of domestic scandal and political intrigues. The atmosphere and intimacy that the theater holds, in tandem with the exhibition, offer the opportunity for a production that will illuminate and broaden our understanding of Henry’s nature. With the extraordinary actor Ian Merrill Peakes, we can perhaps examine whether Henry is struggling with ideas of identity and conscience, whether his “duty” to produce an heir is an obsession or an excuse.
It is also wonderful to be presenting this play with the great political backdrop of Washington, DC. The play’s three central stories underline the wheel of fortune-the rise and fall of leaders as bribery and subordination are exposed, and the finesse, as well a treachery, sometimes used to climb the political ladder. Moreover, at its heart, the play argues repeatedly that a person is defined by his or her own conscience. It seems right now when financial institutions are exposed daily, when difficult decisions are made for the greater good, when our leaders have their personal lives dissected in the public arena, to consider this play, which also revealed a time of political complexity. Perhaps through Henry VIII we might better understand the trials and tribulations of public office and world leadership. Perhaps we might examine our fervent need for gossip and scandal and in doing so remember Griffith’s words at the end of Wolsey’s life when he concludes:
Men’s evil manners live in brass, their virtues
We write in water.
Thank you for your patronage, and I hope that you enjoy the production. – Robert Richmond
Photos by Carol Pratt.
- Secretary to the Cardinal/Lord chamberlain/Cranmer: Nathan James Bennett
- Will Sommers playing the roles of Surveyor, Cromwell, Old Lady and Others: Louis Butelli
- Cardinal Wolsey: Anthony Cochrane
- Lord Sands/Earl of Surrey/Gentleman: Michael Glenn
- Queen Katherine: Naomi Jacobson
- Duke of Buckingham/Griffith: Stephen Patrick Martin
- King Henry: Ian Merrill Peakes
- Anne Boleyn: Karen Peakes
- Duke of Norfolk: Lawrence Redmond
- Duke of Suffolk: Todd Scofield
- Lady of the Court: Megan Steigerwald
- Cardinal Wolsey: Nathan James Bennett
- Will Sommers: Cory Cunningham
- King Henry: Eric Humpries
- Duke of Buckingham/Griffith: Doug Krehbel
- Lord Sands/Earl of Surrey/Gentleman/Secretary to the Cardinal/Lord Chamberlain/Cranmer: Michael Reid
- Anne Boleyn: Betsy Rosen
- Duke of Norfolk/Duke of Suffolk: Ron Ward
- Queen Katherine: Eva Wilhelm
- Director: Robert Richmond
- Set Design: Tony Cisek
- Composer/Sound Design: Anthony Cochrane
- Lighting Design: Klyph Stanford
- Costume Designer: William Ivy Long
- Resident Dramaturg: Michele Osherow
- Production Stage Manager: Che Wernsman
- Assistant Director/Choreographer: Abigail Isaac
- Assistant Technical Director: Joshua Bristol
- Assistant Stage Manager: Eric Arnold
- Production Assistant: Kirsten Parker
- Dramaturg Intern: Jessica Clark
- Scenery Construction: Bella Facia, Inc.
- Prop Master: Kate Olden
- Puppets: Betsy Rosen
- Associate Costume Designer: Mariah Hale
- Director, William Ivey Long Studios: Donald Sanders
- Costume Assistant/Wardrobe Head: Adalia Vera Tonneyck
- Master Electrician: Amber Meade
- Electricians: Brian Allard, Margaret Bonnell, Matt Shipley, Paul Villalovoz
- Light Board Operator: Matt Shipley
- Assistant Sound Designer: Michael Rasbury
- Sound Head: Matthew M. Nielson
- Sound Board Operator: Matt Rowe
- Ms. Jacobson’s Dialect Consultant: Gary Logan
- Promotional Photography: James Kegley
- Production Photography: Carol Pratt
- Archival Recording: WAPAVA
- Open Captioning: C2 Inc.
Disclaimer: Folger Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/5811.
Mark Lee Adams has been involved in theatre for over 40 years in the local Washington DC Metro area as well as NYC and London England. Mark has performed at the Dramatist Guild Theatre on Broadway, at The Dorothy Strelsin Theatre Off-Broadway. His credits include work in many local theatres as well: The Folger Theatre Group, Arena Stage, New Playwrights Theatre, 7th Street Players, The Keegan Theatre, The American Century Theatre, The Journeyman Theatre, ASTA Theatre, The Hayloft Dinner Theatre (Associate Producer), The Lazy Susan Theatre, Discovery Channels, "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" (Frankenstein) with Donald Sutherland. London, England credits include work at: The Duke of York Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre, The Questors Theatre, The British Embassy Players. Mark is a graduate of The Drama Studio, London, England. Mark is also a narrator of audio books for Gildan Audio: “True North”, by Bill George; “Never Give Up”, by Tedy Bruschi and “Five Minds for the Future”, by Howard Gardner among them. Mark currently teaches Advanced Acting at The Little Theatre of Alexandria and still performs locally in many theatres.