Six Dead Queens
and an Inflatable Henry!
Piccolo brings six dead queens to life
|Piccolo Theatre presents|
|Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry|
Review by Keith Glab
We Americans don’t know a ton about the six wives of Henry VIII. It isn’t entirely our fault; some of their stories blend together and there are only three first names between them, though all six have different spellings. Piccolo Theatre sets out to sort our confusion and differentiate between the six matriarchs.
Henry’s six wives co-exist in a sort of ethereal bedroom, dominated by a red four-poster bed that also evokes a wrestling ring. This is convenient, as the six dead queens spend most of their time combating each other either physically or psychologically. They vie in completion to assert themselves as the one true queen of Henry.
The cast of six (plus two understudies) co-direct the piece and serve as designers. Considering all of the cooks in the kitchen, the performance has a clean and cohesive feel. The approach is not without its drawbacks, however. They appear to have gone to great lengths to cast against the physical descriptions they give of the ladies. One who was supposed to be dark-haired was portrayed by a redhead and vice versa; the supposedly flat-chested Anne Boleyn (Vanessa Hughes) is portrayed by the most well-endowed member of the cast, and the actress playing the purportedly homely Anna of Cleves (Deborah Craft Proud) is gorgeous. This could have worked as commentary of perception versus reality if not for the inconsistency. Most notably, Denita Linnertz towers over her castmates as Katherine Parr, who goes on to confirm that fact in the script. This exception makes the actual intention behind the contradictions unclear.
Also, despite the script making a big deal about the queens suffering different fates, they all react in the same way whenever someone mentions anything loosely related to a beheading (Gasp! Swish-swish, chop-chop). This winds up being a device, but it undercuts some of the other great character work done.
As actors, the cast is quite strong, with believable dialects (other than Amy Gorelow’s Spanish accent). Linnertz’ Parr and Nicole Keating’s Kathryn Howard are the most memorable characters. Katherine Parr is depicted as a kickass maternal figure with underlying vulnerabilities while Keating makes Kathryn Howard into more than just the lustful girl she first appears to be. They are all also terrifically gifted musically, both in terms of voice and their skill with the instruments that they intermittently pull out for a number. Vanessa Hughes sings particularly well.
The play’s resolution is only mildly satisfying, but the production is more about bringing these six historical figures to life in an entertaining romp. There’s no doubt that you will learn and remember more about the six wives of Henry VIII by attending Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry than you will by reading their biographies. You’ll have a blast, too.
Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry continues through October 6th at Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map) – check website for specific performance dates. Tickets are $14-$29, and are available by phone (773-404-7336 x201) or online through PrintTixUSA.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at PiccoloTheatre.com. (Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Robert Erving Potter III
Amy Gorelow (Catherine of Aragon), Vanessa Hughes (Anne Boleyn), Berner Taylor (Jane Seymour), Deborah Craft Proud (Anna of Cleves), Nicole Keating (Kathryn Howard), Denita Linnertz (Katherine Parr), Lauren Goode, Whitney LaMora (understudies)
behind the scenes
John Szostek (artistic director); Christopher Marino (associate artistic director); Amanda Kulczewski (managing director, technical consultant ); Joshua D. Allard (production manager, costumes); Tabbi Koller (production stage manager); Lauren Yarbrough (stage manager ); Bradley Jackson (tech director); Brianna Sloane, Christopher Marino (artistic consultants); Jason Martin (dialect/artistic consultant); Aimee Warshall (lighting); Elizabeth “Missy” Styles (fight choreographer); Denita Linnertz (musical director); Robert Erving Potter III (photos); Stephanie Neilitz, Ruth Hudson (costumes); Jill Dowse, Denita Linnertz, Amy Gorelow (music composers, lyricists and arrangers)