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A Man for All Seasons

a Historical Drama
CATEGORY :
by Robert Bolt

COMPANY : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
ID# 3330

SHOWING : March 08, 2009 - April 12, 2009

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

A captivating and gripping recounting of Sir Thomas More’s moral struggle to obey his conscience in defiance of England’s young King Henry VIII. In this play, which became a critically acclaimed work in both stage and movie versions, politics and intrigue interlock powerfully in church and Tudor court circles.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Robert Farley
Sir Thomas More John Ammerman
King Henry VIII Brik Berkes
Chapuys James Donadio
The Common Man Chris Ensweiler
Cardinal Wolsey/Cranmer Bruce Evers
Richard Rich David Kronawitter
Cromwell Harrison Long
Margaret More Cara Mantella
William Roper Rich Remedios
Alice More Holly Stevenson
Norfolk Peter Thomasson
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REVIEWS

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The Uncommon Man
by Dedalus
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
5.0
As The Common Man, Chris Ensweiler takes the stage of Theatre in the Square to tell us that The Sixteenth Century is the Century of the Common Man. Like all the other centuries. And then he proceeds to tell us of one of the most uncommon men to ever enter the political arena. Sir Thomas More was, in the view of playwright Robert Bolt, a man who put conscience ahead of state he would have been able to understand our contemporary debates regarding separation of church and state, for, as A Man for All Seasons shows us, he was willing to go to the block rather than betray his own principles. Can you imagine any contemporary politician (or pundit) who would do the same?

Theatre in the Square has mounted a marvelously designed and performed spectacle, one that uses theatrical razzle-dazzle to tell its simple story. This production shows us a panoply of characters who are seduced by the dazzle, who find theatricality in everyday interactions. And at its center is a thoroughly grounded and honest man whose feet are planted more in the earth than on the stage, yet who plays a central role in one of the major turning points of post-medieval history. John Ammerman gives an outstanding performance as More, showing us a man who lives on the cusp of sanctimony, a humorous and self-deprecating moralist who nevertheless shows us the steel behind the sanctimony, the honesty behind conscience. He repeatedly pronounces faith in his king and in the safety of the law, even when that king uses the law against him.

It is 1530, and the British monarchy is in crisis. Henry VIII has no heir. The civil wars of the Plantagenet and Tudor successions are recent enough that everyone fears another outbreak. Yet Queen Catherine is less likely to produce a son with each passing year. If the pope will grant the king a divorce, he can marry his latest young (and presumably fertile) paramour, Anne Boleyn. But the pope, a corrupt puppet of Spain, will not budge. So, Henry and his parliament break from Rome and form the Church of England. Henrys chancellor, Sir Thomas More, recognizes all the secular implications of the action, recognizes the corruption and politicization of the Pope, even recognizes Anne Boleyn as the Queen and her children as the heirs to the throne. But he remains stubbornly silent on Parliaments ability to take the road it has taken, on the legality of over-ruling the Pope in such an ecclesiastical matter. And, because of his popular reputation for honesty, the King will do whatever it takes to break that silence.

This is a dense and vivid play, one I have seen produced several times, and one which never fails to move me. It is filled with clever (and often poetic) dialog, with logic and rhetoric that would shame any debate club, with suspense and reversal and simple statements of love and loyalty, and with one of the most compelling courtroom scenes ever written for the stage. Since Im not an historian, I cannot vouch for its accuracy other sources show us the darker side of Mores strict adherence to conscience. In The Tudors, for example (admittedly a bastion of sleazy inaccuracy), he is painted as a fanatical heretic-hunter/killer. Indeed, the same certainty so canonized here in Bolts play can very easily be understood to lead to a sociopathic disdain for any who disagree. Here, though, Mr. Ammerman and Mr. Bolt are creating a compelling figure, a victim of the currents of history who remains above the pragmatic compromises of his friends and fellows.

The set (by Jonathan Williamson) is a beautifully conceived pseudo-Tudor structure that can transform from palace to prison with a shift in light. Indeed, much of the play is performed in shadow, the dark recesses just out of reach of candlelight, as indeed much of the political maneuvering is practiced and hidden. But More himself remains in the light, remains open and understandable and admirable. The costuming here is top-notch most of the characters are dressed as they are in paintings Ive seen of them. The costumes are detailed and extravagant and character-specific and designer Jeannie Crawford deserves every bit of praise that will surely be coming her way.

The supporting cast is marvelous Mr. Ensweilers Common Man shifts from role to role, but remains our guide, our connection to the complexities of the story. Brik Berkes gives one of his best performances ever as the flamboyantly masculine Henry VIII, still youthful and fit, still every inch the King. Holly Stevensons Alice More is all flinty affection and James Donadios Spanish Ambassador all oily maneuvering. If Harrison Longs Cromwell comes off at the start as too much the Melodrama Villain, that may be more the result of his always black costume, always sinister goatee. David Kronawitters Richard Rich is a much more compelling villain we see his descent, his seduction, his regret at the violence he has done to More and himself. In smaller roles, Peter Thomasson, Cara Mantella, and Rich Remedios all acquit themselves well.

But this is first and foremost Mores story, Ammermans play. I liked him from his first entrance to his last. He makes More an uncommon hero who is grounded by a commonality most of aspire to and can never hope to achieve. His journey forces us to ask those difficult questions what do I believe with enough passion that I would go to my death rather than to betray that belief? I certainly do not wish to face the same tests of character, the same damned-if-I-do, dead-if-I-dont dilemma.

If youll forgive yet another personal digression, its easy to say that since I do not myself believe in eternal damnation (or, for that matter, any afterlife) that I could easily make the same sort of character compromises that Mores family and friends tempt him to. But, then, why, at my wedding, did I jump through so many semantic hoops so I could give my wife her priestly wedding without swearing to anything I didnt believe myself? Maybe, because, eternal damnation or not, our words and actions have very real consequences to those we love, to ourselves and to the rest of our lives. This play, this production makes clear that its the commitment, the honesty that is important, and I find that worthy of praise, the perfect antidote to the moral compromise that characterized last weeks Tent Meeting.

I suppose I have taken the Common Mans final words to heart. If we should bump into one another, recognize me. A Man for All Seasons shows us an uncommon man, one with a belief-system as far removed from mine as his epoch is from mine. Yet, I recognize him. I identify with him. I aspire to his courage, his commitment.

And I was happy to bump into this production of this play that brilliantly brings him into focus. I urge you to recognize it!

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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