When one hears the name Henry VIII, some may immediately launch into the 1965 Herman’s Hermits hit song “I’m Henery the Eighth, I Am”, but The Cleveland Shakespeare Festival will now have many Clevelanders reliving their performance of “The Famous History of the Life of King Henry VIII -or- All is True”.
Playing in rep with their production of “As You Like It”, the festival’s outdoor offerings will play for one more weekend. “Henry” is written by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, and directed by David Hansen. The cast of thirteen takes us on the journey of power, intrigue and plotting as we see King Henry VIII (played by a strong and commanding Brian Pedaci) fall into the ploys of Cardinal Wolsey (played by a conniving Allen Branstein) and sets in motion his divorce to Katherine of Aragon, his wife of twenty years (played beautifully by Laura Rauh).
Being an outdoor, traveling company, this group has done a wonderful job at using the park space. This review is based on the Saturday, July 28th showing on The Kulas Stage at Wade Oval. Director David Hansen has successfully used the large space and created wonderful images with the actors even without a set, lights or extravagant costumes. It can be difficult enough to keep an audience’s attention even with a full-scale production with all of the bells and whistles, but “Henry” evokes the imagination and holds attention throughout on its own merits.
The actors do an admirable job. Brian Pedaci has a royal presence fit for a king as Henry VIII, with a surprise moment of fun coming from a Beastie Boys inspired party moment. Allen Branstein is a formidable foe as Cardinal Wolsey, bringing sneaky plotting to a new level of deliciousness. Laura Rauh gives the character of Katherine a wonderful balance of strength and sadness, as she holds her head high with grace through tears in her marital end with Henry VIII. Hillary Wheelock plays an unsuspecting Anne Bullen (Boleyn), letting us see her as a woman caught up in what’s happening around her. Other notable performances include Bryan Ritchey’s comic portrayal of Lord Sandys, and Michael Randall’s heartbreaking walk to his end as the Duke of Buckingham.
Other interesting production details to note include the costuming choice of modern suits, a clever introduction of cell phones, a haunting contemporary dance interlude with Katherine and women in wedding dresses (choreographed by Sarah Clare), and a well-intended but awkward presentation of Gotye’s hit song “Somebody That I Used to Know”.
Overall, the production is a solid and captivating way to spend an evening. The final performances will take place as follows: “Henry VIII” on August 4, 2012 at 7:00 p.m., and “As You Like It” on August 5, 2012 at 7:00 p.m., both taking place in Tremont’s Lincoln Park.
Audience members are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets and seat themselves prior to each outdoor performance. Rain spaces have been secured, allowing performances to proceed, rain or shine. For more information on The Cleveland Shakespeare Festival, visit http://cleveshakes.org/.
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