The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0368 Monday, 26 July 2013
Date: July 28, 2013 1:56:49 PM EDT
Subject: REVIEW: Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival’s Henry VIII
On Thursday, I went to the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival production of Henry VIII. The company is professional and performs at DeSales University, just south of Allentown, PA, an hour north of Philadelphia and an hour and a half west of New York City. The theater is small and intimate, and the acoustics are excellent—every seat is a good seat.
Before the performance, the director gave a short presentation on the history, the play, and the circumstances of the production. She pointed out that, in Shakespeare’s day, there was no director, the Globe presented about forty plays a season, and actors had to learn or renew their acquaintance with their parts in a few days, with almost no rehearsal time. As an experiment, the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival decided to do the same with this production. The cast first met less than a week ago, they had to rummage in the production warehouse for costumes, the lighting was borrowed from another production, and there was almost no scenery. Finally, the director warned us in advance that the actors had not had time to fully memorize their lines, and that there might be calls for help to the prompter. Given the lack of rehearsal time, Wolsey had to call for lines a dozen times, but he did it so smoothly that it did not interrupt the flow at all. All the characters were well-presented, especially Henry and Wolsey. The production is well thought out, with great attention to detail. I have always felt that Henry VIII was a dull read and had never seen it performed, but the group brought it to life; I am very glad I went. Also, the play is a series of vignettes, a series of scenes, a collection of characters, not really a play, nothing grows. Somehow, in spite of this, the production was compelling.
My only cavil is with the production is with the actress who played Katherine. In the play, before her trial, she has a magnificent speech, denouncing the process, protesting her devotion to Henry, and condemning the obvious outcome. On paper, it is powerful, but the actress did so much yelling and arm waving that she simply came off as being very angry, the pathos and nobility of the speech were lost.
All told, it was very good. If you are in the Philadelphia/New York area, I strongly recommend attending. By the way, at the very end of the play, there is a paean to Anne Boleyn’s daughter Elizabeth, who has just been born. Given that George Alexander Louis was just a day or two old, this was very well-received.
The Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival is presenting six plays this summer, and I plan to see their Measure for Measure later this week.