"Henry VIII" (Chicago Shakespeare Theater): Majestic Pageantry

"Henry VIII" (Chicago Shakespeare Theater):  Majestic Pageantry

Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents the Chicago premiere of HENRY VIII, 400 years after its debut.

In the decade following the death of Queen Elizabeth I, Shakespeare penned the tumultuous romance  of her parents.  The Bard chronicles the political intrigue surrounding the meeting of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.  Originally entitled “All is True,” the play illustrates the twisting of truth and blatant lying that destroyed relationships, careers, and lives.  The Court’s point of view continually changes depending on the King’s favor.  Timing is more important than being wrong or right.  It’s all about perception even in the writing of the tale.  Shakespeare gingerly handles the ultimate domestic violence scenario by simply avoiding it.  History gets its own creative spin as Shakespeare glosses over the royal story sans a fact here or there.

Under the direction of Barbara Gaines, Shakes brings out the majestic pageantry in Henry VIII.  It’s a designers’ showcase.  First, Scenic Designer Jim Noone uses over-sized silky tarps as processional backdrops in red, purple and white. They are hung up and pulled down to illustrate power. Noone continually uses a huge, stark vault for the life exits of certain characters.  The monstrosity’s harshness contrasts with the beautiful, flowing silks.  A trap door opens and the doomed person climbs through it.  Composer and Sound Designer Lindsay Jones adds the audio finality.  During the vault exits and at the end of pivotal scenes, Jones slams the trap door with startling heaviness.   HENRY VIII is heavy-duty spectacle with plenty of visual and audio special effects.

The unforgettable, gasp-worthy moment is Queen Anne’s coronation.  Noone’s purple draping drops from the ceiling to reveal a white curtain.  In turn, that curtain falls away to expose Costume Designer Mariann Verheyen’s magnificent creation.  Christina Pumariega (Anne) is golden from crown to scepter to baby bump.  Pumariega is ensconced in regal splendor.  Throughout the play, Verheyen’s costumes captivate for their exquisite and vibrant finery.

And this cast isn’t just dressed to impress.  They act impressively too.  The large and talented cast pulls us into the Tudor time and makes us pay attention to the ever-changing allegiances.  Gregory Wooddell (Henry) portrays the dashing King.  A charismatic Wooddell effectively suspends our knowledge of the King’s killer instinct as we are caught up in his zest for knowledge and love.  The scenes between him and Pumariega are increasingly steamy.  Their encounters are well-choreographed eroticism.  It’s hot.   Other noteworthy performances are the passionately rebellious Andrew Long (Buckingham), persecutor to victim descent of Scott Jaeck (Wolsey) and the imperially supreme Ora Jones (Katherine).  Plus, Chicago’s favorite Mike Nussbaum (Suffolk) zings an on-going joke by simply uttering the word ‘conscience.’

HENRY VIII is ongoing moments of pomp and circumstance. Although each extravaganza tries to outdo the last one, I’m certain the coronation has them all beat. The Ta-Da scenes continually finish like this-is-it.  Regularly, we believe we’ve reached the play’s conclusion.  Then, we are surprised to see actors back on stage.  So much so, when the show finally concludes after a few false endings, the audience hesitates to applaud.  When we finally understand the show is over, we applaud heartily.  The trip back in time has been an elegant, enthralling, erotic and sometimes erroneous history lesson.

Running Time:  Two hours and thirty minutes includes an intermission
At Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Barbara Gaines
Wednesdays at 1pm
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm
Sundays at 2pm
Thru June 16th
Buy Tickets at www.ChicagoShakes.com

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