By Beth Van Gelder
Boston, MA – A rare opportunity exists to see “Henry VIII,” one of Shakespeare’s seldom-produced plays, at the Modern Theater at Suffolk University. Directed by Tina Packer, the Actors’ Shakespeare Project gives us a fine glimpse of this very complex Tudor monarch, played by Allyn Burroughs, two of his six wives — Katherine of Aragon (Tamara Hickey) and Anne Boleyn (Kathryn Miles) — and the proud, ambitious Cardinal Wolsey (Robert Walsh).
An array of convincingly conniving nobleism and a delightfully charismatic fool (Bobbie Steinbech), complete the picture that leaves us with more questions than answers. This is not a surprise given that Shakespeare had also named this play, “All Is True.”
Was Henry a highly cultured, enlightened despot, a visionary who saw through the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church? Or was he a cruel, self-indulgent hypocrite who used religion to mask his excessive lust, greed and need for power?
Was Cardinal Wolsey’s hubris and consequent fall from grace meant to be instructive, or was he just another of Henry’s victims?
Did Shakespeare want us to say “good riddance “ to his demise or feel sympathy for him?
Was Katherine’s devotion to her husband foolish or admirable? Was Anne a sexy, ruthless home breaker or was her true passion religious reform?
Perhaps, in the mind of Shakespeare, all are true.
I found this production to have a great deal of visual appeal. The spare set was enhanced with sumptuous period costumes, further complimented with creative lightening. Although it’s not a pretty story, Henry VIII has a lot to teach us about the multifarious nature of human behavior and our own tendencies to judge the actions of individuals from a single-minded perspective.
(Due to popular demand an extra show has been added on January 5th 7PM. Tickets are available here.)