Reviewed by Lory Martinez
For its final main stage production of the spring semester, the Binghamton University Theatre Department is presenting Howard Brenton’s Anne Boleyn, directed by Anne Brady. The historical ode to the controversial Boleyn girl’s rise and fall highlights the talents of Danielle Nigro as Anne Boleyn and Rob Tendy as King Henry VIII.
The events of the play take place in two time periods: at the court of King Henry VIII during his divorce proceedings from Catherine of Aragon and at the court of King James I (Johnathan Molyneux), 40 years later during the Protestant Reformation. The play follows King James when he first arrives in England to take over the throne. After settling in at the palace, he becomes obsessed with the discovery of a book by William Tyndell (Tyler Downey), a close friend of the long-dead queen Anne Boleyn. As he struggles with the changing nature of religion in England, James is inspired by the tenacity of Anne’s spirit and her influence on the history of England. We are then told the story of Anne’s seven-year-long affair with Henry, which ended in her untimely death at the Tower of London.
What we see in this play are two love stories: the story of a woman and her insurmountable love of God and His word and the story of a man and a woman whose love can endure all except for, you know, treason. The former is dealt with perfectly. Nigro’s Boleyn is the right mix of passion, determination and fanaticism. She fights for her God and, in influencing the king to reform the church, succeeds even after her death. The latter, however, is a bit different.
Personally, I’m not a fan of historical pieces because accuracy is never really on the plate. Even so, this play certainly does at least address a few points even as it romanticizes the Boleyn affair. A one-line mention of Anne’s sister (who was also the king’s mistress before her) and a brief exchange between the Henry and Jane Seymour (Emily Mahoney) certainly alludes to the king’s philandering ways. But the Henry we see on stage seems to be very much in love with Anne until the very end. Audiences don’t see the womanizer that he was, which makes the ending kind of abrupt. His sudden interest in Jane has no context, and one feels a loss in that characterization of the famous Tudor monarch as a loving husband.
That being said, Tendy does a good job with what he’s given. In depicting the king in such a way, we even start to ignore the fact that his romance with Anne was an affair outside of his marriage to Catharine of Aragon. We begin to side with the lovers, because we want them to win.
As the play switches back and forth in time, it also switches between the two love stories. In James’ court, the religious debates come back to the fore, and audience members watch as those debates evolve into the creation of a new Bible, the well-known King James Edition. At times, these scenes seem to last a tad too long, but they are worth watching simply because of Molyneux. His King James provides most of the comic relief in the drama. He is blunt and straightforward and oh so witty. He has some of the best lines and is certainly one to watch.
Another talent to keep an eye on is Andrew Bryce, whose Thomas Cromwell strikes fear into the hearts of both the men and women of the court. Bryce brings out the darkness in Cromwell even when he plays nice in order to get what he wants.
Overall, Anne Boleyn is a great showcase of BU talent and offers a glimpse into a time when faith and love were at a crossroads.
IF YOU GO: The show opened last weekend (April 25-26) and continues at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday (May 2 and 3) and 2 p.m. Sunday (May 4) in the Watters Theater of the BU Fine Arts Building. Tickets are $14 (faculty/staff/seniors, $12; students, $8); call 777-ARTS (777-2787) or visit anderson.binghamton.edu.