If one were to look at Chicago Shakespeare Theater as a stable where horses are prepared for championships, one would have to say that Artistic Director Barbara Gaines is by far the best breeder in the world, and each play she directs is pure thoroughbred ( Triple Crown Winners to use racing terms). She also, with her great understanding of the works of Shakespeare, finds the exact right actors to portray the characters in his plays. She is the master and all her players make taking the trip to Navy Pier a special event. The current production “Henry VIII” is indeed a masterpiece from start to finish and it is by far the “shortest” 2 1/2 hours of theater that I have spent in quite some time.
“Henry VIII” tells the story of his divorce from Katherine of Aragon ( a superb portrayal by Ora Jones) and his marriage to the seductive Anne Boleyn ( the very sensual Christina Pumariega, whose scene of seduction will hold you spellbound) and at the end, the birth of Queen Elizabeth and Anne is sent to the “Tower” ( the next step before death) and Henry marries Jane Seymour. There are many more weddings to come, but this play only covers the birth of Elizabeth. Henry is played to perfection by Gregory Wooddell making his CST debut and based on what I saw, I am sure he will return). In the story, it is not only about his notorious amours, but also dealing with the politics of the day ( this was after all the 1500’s), dealing with The Pope and the Catholic church and the power of the Cardinals, in particular, one Cardinal Wolsey ( deftly handled by Scott Jaeck) and the fact that the Cardinal had more wealth than the King ( a big no-no).
For those who have attended The Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier know that the Courtyard stage is designed to emulate the original in England, but with seats on the main floor instead of standing room, and the aisles are used by the actors. In many cases, the sets are designed as major pieces, but not in this production, where a great many drapes and cloths and curtains (James Noone) are used to keep the action flow smooth and very sensual. Mariann S. Verheyen’s costumes are deliciously created and the music and sound by Linsay Jones truly add to the action on the stage. If there is one thing that I had a problem with it would have to be the lighting (Anne Militello) in some scenes that appeared a bit to dark, while others were perfect. Harrison McEldowney handled the choreography and of course the artists also known as Barbara Gaines directed the production.
To put on a Shakespeare production, one needs the understanding of the work itself and actors who relish performing some of the greatest works ever written. CST has that! Just look at the following list:
Kevin Gudahl ( also the verse coach)
Nathan M. Hosner
Alexa ray Meyers
Some of Chicago’s finest and most recognizable. Of special note- watching Mike Nussbaum work is a real treat, here is a man who has been gracing our stages for eons, is still as sharp as a tack and never misses a beat. He also plays well with the audience and his stature, while dwindling in size ( as age seems to do) has nothing to do with his talent which grows with every role he doeas. If you have never seen him work, you might want to make sure you see his take on the role of The Duke of Suffolk. He is amazing!
This is a smooth, sharp production from start to finish with just the right touches. many recall the old movies where Henry VII was a hefty man with food in his mouth , which is not what we find here. We find a man who truly loves being in love and the power that he has in being a king- you can see this production at Chicago’s Navy Pier through June 16th . For actual schedule visit www.chicagoshakes.com
Discounted parking is available ($12.60 with theater validation) and of course a variety of dining is available at Navy Pier.
To see what others say, visit www.theatreinchicago.com go to Review Round-Up and click at “Henry VIII”