Royal Pain: Henry gets the scepter, More gets the shaft.

To the heathens among us, the internecine and often deadly struggles that gave birth to the Church of England can seem like a heated and lengthy debate about whether the Easter Bunny wears a vest or a dickey. The genius of Richard Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons is the canny thematic jiu-jitsu it employs. In documenting the pain and misery set off by Henry VIII’s inability to keep it in his tights, Bolt’s play cleverly recasts a dry ecumenical dispute as a treatise on selfhood. The self in question is the play’s eponymous all-season-radial, Sir Thomas More (Timothy Lynch), whose steadfast refusal to compromise his conscience is the real subject of Bolt’s secular hagiography. A Man for All Seasons is a long (2 hours and 45 minutes), wordy play that’s been around for a while, and Keegan is giving it a good, if traditional, go. As More, Lynch turns in a wryly intelligent and sensitive performance, allowing us to see how the man’s many ingenious attempts to avoid his fate (i.e., lots of depends what your definition of is isnstyle legal parsing) are borne out of conviction, not mendacity or fear. There’s plenty to enjoy here: the cameo appearance by a bluff and hearty Henry VIII (Jon Townson), the transformation of low-status ankle-biter Richard Rich (Carlos Bustamente) into high-status ankle-biter, and the amoral pragmatism of the Common Man narrator (Robert Leembruggen) as he dutifully assumes whatever role is assigned him. Director Susan Marie Rhea has given the Common Man and More several brief, wordless moments together on stage. These interludes of mutual appraisal are a nice touch, even as they underscore the moral gulf that separates the two characters. As More’s nemesis Oliver Cromwell, however, Mark Rhea delivers an oddly flat, matter-of-fact performance that leaches the villainy out of the villain of the piece. It’s nothing a little judicious moustache-twirling couldn’t fix. Kelly Peacock’s period costumes are appealingly sumptuous and believably threadbare depending on the script’s demands. George Lucas’ set design is attractive, but it certainly keeps poor Leembruggen busy. Just about every scene break calls for the Common Man to lug tables and chairs back and forth across the stage like some kind of Tudor Teamster; dude should have been issued a truss with his tunic.

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