King Or Church?
A Man For All Seasons explores age-old questions of loyalty and religious faith at the Outdoor Forest Theater.
Thursday, June 20, 2002
Photo: Don''t Lose Your Head-Richard Boynton (left) as Henry VIII squares off with Skip Kadish''s Sir Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons.
Sir Thomas More, the 16th-century statesman and philosopher, was one of those rarest of men: A strong man who was truly a nice guy. In a 1516 letter to his editor, Peter Gilles, explaining why he was late in delivering his manuscript for Utopia, he wrote: "You see, when I come home, I''ve got to talk to my wife, have a chat with my children, and discuss things with my servants. I count this as one of my commitments, because it''s absolutely necessary, if I''m not to be a stranger in my own home. Besides, one should always try to be nice to the people one lives with "
It''s this nice-guy aspect of More''s complex personality that is emphasized in the current production of Robert Bolt''s A Man for All Seasons by the Forest Theater Guild. As More, Skip Kadish does a fine job humanizing More: He''s truly the salt-of-the-earth kind of fellow you''d like to know. At the same time, Kadish''s performance neglects the other side of More''s complex character. In the world of steel-eyed death and men that people King Henry VIII''s court, More was one of the steeliest, both charismatic and politically strong enough to have risen from lawyer to Lord Chancellor of England, the second most powerful position in the country after the king.
Even the act that ultimately led to More''s beheading speaks of More''s great strength and confidence. King Henry VIII, then married to his second wife, Catherine of Aragon, was seeking a divorce that the Pope was reluctant to give. In 1530, Henry''s Parliament drafted a document declaring Henry the head of the Catholic church in England. While the deeply religious More refused to sign the document, he also refrained from actively opposing the order. It was a tactic that failed to satisfy Henry and which provided More''s enemies in the court with enough reasons to have him executed. It''s a measure of More''s power that even though he had resigned his chancellorship, he was still considered a threat to Henry''s designs.
Director Rosemary Luke, whose actors swirl about Carey Crockett''s open, drab grey set, does a nice job conveying the activity and confusion attendant upon the machinations at court and in More''s household as he falls from grace with Henry.
Richard Boynton gives a particularly noteworthy performance as Henry VIII, in the one scene in which he and More come face to face. He manages to be both charming and dangerous at the same time, with a bit of boyish bounce and swagger to the performance.
Jeff Hudelson, too, makes a strong appearance as Cardinal Wolsey, More''s would-be mentor and predecessor as Chancellor. Hudelson conveys both his character''s admiration for More''s intelligence and scruples, and his frustration with the same aspects of More''s character.
As Oliver Cromwell, Ron Cohen lays on the bad-guy, smirking and gloating routine a bit too thickly, and even more over-the-top is Garland Thompson''s performance as the weaselly Master Richard Rich. As More''s friend and sometimes ally the Duke of Norfolk, Larry Welch gives a bombastic rendition as he tries to sort through his character''s anguish and confusion over More''s refusal to take the easy way out. All three performances might have worked better had Kadish''s performance as More been equally stylized. As it is, there''s a glaring imbalance in the dynamics between the principal antagonists in this production.
As The Common Man, the play''s narrator/chorus, John Brady has some amusing moments, addressing the audience as he performs various roles from servant to boat man to executioner. Susan Keenan delivers a heartfelt performance as Lady Alice More, who supports her husband even though she can''t understand his actions. And Rosemary Garrison (a last minute fill-in for Signe Brewer who was in a traffic accident) does a fine job as daughter Lady Margaret More, who is courted and married by William Roper, given one of the production''s most nuanced performances by Erik Petersen.
Adrienne Wellisch''s costumes, generally in muted tones that complement the set, break into occasional bursts of color that help set the tenor of each scene; and the lighting design by Julian Carson and Greg Kieckhefer appropriately illuminates and isolates the on-stage action.