Henry VIII reunites with wives

Play focuses on life, times and influence of British king

Stage: theater, music, dance

January 08, 2004|By Sarah Schaffer | Sarah Schaffer,SUN STAFF

Fells Point's Vagabond Players present The Royal Gambit, a stage show in which the game of love involves many players.

First produced in the 1950s by German playwright Hermann Gressieker, the two-hour play documents the life and times of Britain's King Henry VIII.

The comedy-drama begins when the infamous king, known for beheading more than one of his six wives, dances with all of the women on a human-sized chess board.

Although artistic license is used to place all six of the women together at the opening, the script that follows relies mainly upon the real history of his nearly 40-year reign.

The chess board scene sets the stage for a story that chronicles the complicated and different moves made in the relationships between the 16th-century monarch and his partners.

After the group dance, Henry VIII connects with each of the women individually, and their dialogues reveal both the relationships' effects on his rule and the king's influence on contemporary society.

In his discourse with Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour and his other consorts, the sometimes pompous king, played by Tom Wyatt, discusses his dealings and discoveries in a variety of areas, including social and scientific realms.

During a talk with Boleyn, played by Dyana Neal, he prognosticates about how his beliefs concerning religious freedom will impact future generations.

"Through this [type of conversation], he brings in so many different facets of history that go on after he does," said the play's director, Ann Mainolfi.

"He brings in computers, he brings in medicine, the women's lib thing and reaching out to the Near East. He transcends history and becomes part of the 20th century.

"What happens throughout the course of the play is that he fashions himself as a modern man," she added.

And by the end of the production, although Henry's egocentricity leads him to believe himself responsible for many of the notable strides in civilization, it becomes clear that the women controlled, in varying degrees, the direction of the man's empire.

So much that when the king finally meets death in the final scene, his last wife, Catherine Parr, says that his life - and his legacy - was left "in six shares."

From wisdom and wealth to love and spirit, his existence was divided among the women with whom he lived it.

The Royal Gambit opens tomorrow and runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Feb. 8.

The Vagabond Theatre is at 806 S. Broadway. Show times are 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $12 and $10 for students and seniors. For more information, call 410-563-9135.

For more theater, classical music and dance events, see Page 34.

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