by Macey Levin
Katherine Parr was Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife. She was a woman before her time – viewed as an intellectual, having served as regent to Henry’s son the future King Edward VI, and the first woman in England to have books published under name. Her four-year marriage to Henry is the focus of Kate Hennig’s play The Last Wife produced by WAM Theatre at the Bernstein Theatre on the campus of Shakespeare & Co, in Lenox, MA.
We follow Parr’s life from her first introduction to Henry to her marriage to Thomas Seymour and her death from childbirth a year later. This is a very broad canvas and that is a major flaw of the play. Her relationship with her lover Seymour, Henry, his daughters Mary and Elizabeth (called Bess) and his son Edward (called Eddie) requires a lot of talk, some of which is repetitive or redundant or unnecessary. If the script were tighter the drama would be more telling and emotionally more affecting.
Though the play takes place in the sixteenth century, Hennig has opted to place it into today’s world and to use contemporary jargon and idioms to point out the relevance of the events to our time. Drawing on Kate’s strengths as a woman, she says, “The story fits neatly into present day American politics. Audiences will see the correlation. Women’s stories were dangerous to tell, and it is still dangerous to present women’s point of view of history.” This view is supported by the play.
Covering five years of a tumultuous existence is a huge undertaking. The cast does its best to barrel through a huge maze of scenes and unlimited dialogue but they are compromised by the weight of the story and production. Nehassaiu deGannes is an accomplished actress who mines Katherine, called Kate, for her strength and vulnerabilities. She is wise, aggressive, sensual and compassionate. She tentatively accepts Henry’s demand she marry him and then truly falls in love with him giving substance and texture to their tender moments. She seems, however, to deliver some of her lines directly to the audience.
John Hadden’s Henry does not fit the physical image of the portly king, but he often assumes the megalomania that historians have attributed to him. He is gruff, uncompromising and tender in his relationships with all those around him. Thom Seymour, played by David Joseph, is Kate’s lover and then husband after Henry’s death. Joseph’s earlier scenes as the queen’s lover and obedient servant to the king are effective; when his duplicity is uncovered, his bravado stumbles. Lily Linke’s Mary is almost totally dark and sinister while the Bess of Alicia Piemme Nelson is overly perky. These are probably choices by director Kelly Galvin. Edward in the hands of young Raoul Silver is suitably childlike and precocious.
Juliana von Haubrich’s multi-levered set is clever, but the plethora of props and costume pieces stored in hidden cubby holes and the movement of set pieces, especially the bed and benches, takes time to put into place and occasionally slows the pace of the production. Kate has several costume changes suggesting her status designed by Stella Schwartz while the rest of the cast remain in their contemporary stylized dress.
Katherine Parr’s story is worth examining; however, this production, and this play as it now stands, is too bloated to provoke a true appreciation of the woman’s character and talents.
The Last Wife by Kate Hennig; Directed by Kelly Galvin; Cast: Nehassaiu deGannes (Kate) John Hadden (Henry) David Joseph (Thom) Lily Linke (Mary) Alicia Piemme Nelson (Bess) Raoul Silver (Eddie); Scene design: Juliana von Haubrich; Costume design: Stella Schwartz; Lighting design: Aja Jackson; Sound design: Alex Sovronsky; Fight Choreographer: Ryan Winkles; Assistant director: Lia Russell-Self; Stage Manager: Hope Rose Kelly; Running Time: two hours, thirty minutes; one intermission; WAM Theatre at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, Shakespeare & Co., Lenox, MA
From 10/12/17; closing 11/4/17