For the first time, Henry VIII has come to the professional stage in Chicago with Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s current production, exactly 400 years after its 1613 premiere at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
This production of Henry VIII breaks down a complex political and historical tale to focus on the humanity – or lack thereof – of the characters involved in this period of England’s history.
The play focuses on a relatively early period in Henry VIII’s reign, during the transition from his first to second wife, while also delivering all of the political intrigue, backstabbing, and executions one would expect from this era in England’s history.
Making their debut at Chicago Shakespeare Theater is Gregory Wooddell in the title role as Henry VIII and Christina Pumariega as Anne Boleyn, the king’s second wife. Wooddell’s Henry VIII is charismatic and energetic, with his capacity for cruelty on display, yet with a glimmer of tenderness in rare moments, showing perhaps a glimpse of what could have been if he had chosen a different path. Pumariega conveys a beguiling and astute Boleyn. It’s easy to see why the king is captivated by her. While young, she is certainly not naïve; she understands the high-stakes game in which she is a willing player.
Not to be missed is Ora Jones’s role as Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife. Jones delivers a powerful and dramatic performance in which she portrays the queen sympathetically and elegantly.
Some of the most poignant and memorable scenes occur without words. Using dance as a symbol for significant moments between Henry VIII and his two wives, Director Barbara Gaines uses a novel approach to convey the strong emotions in these pivotal moments.
While it may be difficult to imagine any comedic moments in such a dramatic tale, Kate Buddeke as the Old Lady skillfully delivers such moments. With a touch of sarcasm and a keen insight, she conveys the truth of the situation at hand through humor.
For more information on Shakespeare’s play, visit Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s website.
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