One thing I will say about Robert Bolt’s political drama A Man for All Seasons – it is a lot funnier than I remembered. Perhaps it is our changing sensibilities but I think it also speaks to the sensitivities NextStop Theatre Company brings to their current production.
Bolt’s play, as you may recall, focuses on Sir Thomas More, trusted advisor to King Henry the VIII – that is until he dared to stand up against the powerful sovereign.
The playwright’s clear prose takes figures out of the history books and makes them seem quite contemporary. NextStop’s production, directed with depth by Gloria DuGan, finds the balance of More’s unfussy home life and the dangerous life within King Henry’s court.
Todd Huse’s performance as More is a lesson in subtlety, capturing all of the Chancellor’s steadfast faith, keen mind, and kind heart, as well as More’s modesty, a more ephemeral characteristic to pin down, but there it is. You have no doubt that Sir Thomas More would go to the headsman’s block to defend his convictions which makes the play’s journey all the more poignant.
Two other famous figures serve as foil and antagonist to Huse’s Thomas. As the boisterous and vain-glorious Henry VIII, Sun-King Davis cuts a dashing, mercurial figure. This is not the bloated Henry of the Holbein portrait, but the young, handsome, vital king, shining like the morning sun and on the brink of an historic rule over England and an even more historic personal life. Fans of Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies” – either from the novels, PBS mini-series or two-part RSC stage version – will certainly recognize this dramatized Henry, but Bolt got there first. Davis shows a monarch who is difficult to ignore and who clearly expects to be given the right to divorce Queen Catherine.
Aiding and abetting King Henry is the other Thomas who figured prominently in the politics of the day, Thomas Cromwell, slick, dangerous, and determined to help the king achieve his utmost desires. Bruce Alan Rauscher’s masterful performance brings to mind a spider commanding a web that slowly encircles Thomas More until the trap is sprung and More has no escape.
Have no doubt, A Man for All Seasons is More’s play but the ensemble surrounding him, representing the corruptible members of court and the clergy, is crucial to the success of the play. Director Gloria DuGan’s cast rises to the challenge all the way around.
Brandon Herlig is Richard Rich, More’s young protégé who figures prominently in Cromwell’s machinations. The unpleasant and powerful Cardinal Wolsey is brought to life by Bill Fleming. Lyle Blake Smythers makes the most out of his small role as Cranmer, the head of Henry’s new Church of England. Representing the court of Spain and the interests of the never seen Queen Catherine, Manolo Santanalla is ambassador Chapuys. And as More’s one time ally, but one who eventually follows the tide in favor of the king, William Aitken turns in a skillful performance as the gregarious Duke of Norfolk.
Thomas More is surrounded by his loving and supportive wife Lady Alice, and his intelligent daughter Lady Margaret. Laura Russell is a witty, devoted and concerned Alice. Megan Behm makes for a sharp and independent Lady Margaret.
I mentioned doses of humor which I did not recall from reading the play years ago or seeing the film. Much of the humor further humanizes More, and comes in his interactions with his wife, daughter, and his loyal (but waning) companions. Arguing whether a falcon could swoop down from the sky, or whether his young protégé should read Machiavelli, point out the daily domesticity and mundane that often masked the shadow world of Cromwell and Henry’s thirst to have his way.
It is the actor playing the Common Man who has the pivotal role and who adds additional levity. Representing the butlers, stewards, and boatmen, the Common Man is a sort of 16th Century master of ceremonies, commenting on the action while taking part at key moments. A clever conceit by the playwright. Michael Sherman has the likability of a guy next door and the gravitas to make the Common Man’s observations hit home.
A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
May 28 – June 21
NextStop Theatre at
Industrial Strength Theatre
269 Sunset Business Park
2 hours, 45 minutes with 1 intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
DuGan’s designer collaborators lend their support for the production as well. Joseph St. Germain’s scenic design transforms the intimate Industrial Strength Theatre (NextStop’s venue) into a stately, Renaissance space that is functional and stylish. The lighting designed by AnnMarie Castrigno provides the desired effect. Kristina Martin’s costume designs add even more period detail.
As I sat enthralled at A Man for All Seasons, I was struck by its contemporary relevance. Sir Thomas More’s act of standing up for his faith could be ripped from today’s headlines; the freedom to wear a hijab at the workplace, the rights of same-sex couples, or the right to refuse service to those same couples bring to mind More’s single-minded pursuit of what he held in his heart to be true and right.
Sir Thomas More really was a man for all seasons.
A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt . Directed by Gloria DuGan . Featuring Michael Sherman, Todd Huse, Brandon Herlig, William Aitken, Laura Russell, Megan Behm, Bill Fleming, Bruce Rauscher, Manolo Santalla, Josh Goldman, Sung King Davis, Lyle Blake Smythers, Ian Brown, and Lorraine Magee.
Scenic Designer: Joseph St. Germain . Costume Designer: Kristina Martin . Props Designer: Sierra Banack . Lighting Designer: AnnMarie Castrigno . Sound Design: Stan Harris . Fight Choreographer: Leslie Peterson . Assistant Stage Manager: Jessican Carrington . Stage Manager: Leslie Peterson . Produced by NextStop Theatre Company . Reviewed by Jeffrey Walker.