Review of Anne Boleyn
By Howard Brenton
Directed by Jasson Minadakis
For tickets / schedule :
Marin Theatre Company, Mill Valley
RUN: April 14 – May 15 (Extended), 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars
(April 30, 2016)
16th century England was plagued with succession conflict and religious fervor tearing the country apart, until the relatively stable ascension of James I, who calmed the situation through his translation of the Holy Bible as a bridge between factions. Anne Boleyn is an interwoven story of his bawdy Scottish escapades and desperate desire to see a resilient country, and Anne’s ambition to bring protestant reform to England. She navigates treacherous court politics and noblemans’ greed, lit by her genuine love for Henry VIII and a vision for God’s word in the hands of ordinary people. Director Jasson Minadakis orchestrates the multitude of time transitions with alacrity, through movement and Kurt Landisman’s superb lighting design.
Streamlined costumes with Tudor accents by Ashley Holvick are mirrored by Nina Ball’s elegant paper cutout sets that feel like the inside of a miniature palace. Key conflicts revolve around William Tyndale’s (Dan Hiatt) 1528 book The Obedience of a Christian Man and the danger of being in possession of such a heretical work. Anne’s (Liz Sklar) courageous decision to confront Henry is reminiscent of Esther’s prayers before facing King Xerxes. Although the vulgarity is shocking to a modern conservative Christian, there is a strong devotional thread throughout the play, such as the poignant lyrics of Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, “the body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever” which might be the rallying cry of this play.
While I applaud retelling history from a woman’s perspective, it is a disturbing trend to vilify men in order to do so. Cromwell is portrayed as a scheming blackguard with as much depth to him as Don John from Much Ado About Nothing. The atmosphere of the play is quite Shakespearean, not only from the setting, but the style and structure. It clocks in at three hours, but the pacing is uneven, which makes passing time acutely felt when the action slows.
Liz Sklar as Anne Boleyn is earnestly passionate about her mission for God, not understanding why men have difficulty reconciling it with her personal relationships. Bringing dignified wisdom to the stage is Charles Shaw Robinson as both Cardinal Wolsey and Lord Robert Cecil. Poised and noble, Arwen Anderson as Lady Jane Rochford is a compelling presence, attempting to hold her own against a violent system. As both kings, Craig Marker is commanding as Henry, winsomely boorish as James.
Anne Boleyn is an enigma of our time that continues to fascinate. She is closely entwined with crucial upheaval in Western civilization, yet we know little of her. Marin Theatre Company’s production adds another strand to her history that is gilded as the Tudor court and creates a startling and entertaining evening.