on November 9, 2016 by test_editor in Coming Events, WEB-EXTRA content, Comments Off on Web-extra (November 10): GCTC’s “The Last Wife”; She Kept a Head on Her Shoulders.

Web-extra (November 10): GCTC’s “The Last Wife”; She Kept a Head on Her Shoulders.

Web-extra (November 10): GCTC’s “The Last Wife”; She Kept a Head on Her Shoulders.

By Allyson Domanski, Newswest’s Theatre Reviewer.

Only Liz Taylor had more husbands than Hal Tudor had wives.

Hal had six; one Jane, two Annes, three Kates. Two were divorced, two lost their heads, and two, including The Last Wife, died after childbirth. Only the last wife, Kate, (Parr as she is called by her husband in GCTC’s current production “The Last Wife”), outlived her serial spouse**.

Hal, as his wife calls him in the play, is none other than Henry VIII. His title may evoke that larger-than-life image of a misogynist monster but this exceptionally clever play by Canadian actor and playwright Kate Hennig knocks the narcissist down enough pegs to make the guy likeable. By not only nicknaming him Hal but also by making his circumstances more relate-able (his kids make fun of their dad) and his foibles more real (what husband can resist a wife’s seduction?), even he manages to garner our sympathy.

It’s not it all about him, the king. It’s about her, the wife, and the relationships she nurtures with those who matter.

“People don’t want to introduce me to their daughters anymore,” quips King Henry (Oliver Becker), setting the sultry tone early with a come-on line to the soon-to-be-widowed Katherine Parr.

He, handsomely attired in contemporary business suit, shirt and tie straight out of Mr. Big & Tall, with his only kingly giveaway a gaudy necklace. She (Celine Stubel), is all statuesque elegance in a sleeveless evening dress with cinched waist and 5″ stilettos, and looks like she just exited a Holt & Renfrew catwalk.

Hardly the stuff of stuffy England’s 15th Century royalty, that much is soon evident. When it becomes apparent that their seemingly modern antics are actually rooted in 500-year-old historically accurate events, the whole thing becomes more delicious.

The script suggests both contemporary and old-fashioned, the austere pillared set does the same, and the actors effortlessly inhabit both. None more so than Stubel and Becker who pull it off spot-on. Director Esther Jun was given a gift. She makes it look easy.

Hennig, bless her, knows her history. She does not pander to those who skipped high school history class so her script and the drama motor along at breakneck speed. While not essential to bone up before entering the theatre, your appreciation of her work deepens if you do.

As important as history is to Hennig, with whom I had the chance to chat on opening night, her greater interest is “…in telling stories about women. There aren’t enough,” she stressed, “especially in history, which too often was written by men.”

And what a woman in history this is. As stepmother to the King’s son and two daughters, Kate begins educating Eddie (as in Edward VI), Mary (as in Bloody) and Bess (as in Elizabeth I).

Though each came from a different mother, Kate uses grace, determination and sway to get Hal to recognize his daughters as legitimate successors (paving the way for each to assume the crown later). She then persuades petulant Mary (Anie Richer) and bouncy Bess (Mahalia Golnosh Tahririha) to sign oaths of allegiance to their father. Now he can proclaim them as princesses.

“The Last Wife” digs deep into life within an early version of today’s blended family. In raising another’s children, Kate orchestrates inclusiveness and trust; Stubel’s mothering is warm and natural. It convincingly endears even Richer’s well-played pouty belligerence, which perfectly counters Golnosh Tahririha’s cheery sense of opportunity that she senses is ahead.

Young Auden Larratt’s Eddie has the right clingy innocence of someone wanting two parents to guide his way. Becker and Stubel depict a marriage between a couple whose balance of power begins skewed but eases towards a kind of equilibrium, which then teeters on a precipice as it all unravels.

What makes this GCTC-Belfry Theatre co-production work particularly well is the tingly chemistry between the principals. In this marriage of convenience, Hal and Parr figure out how to relate to one another, a needy aged king with younger learned commoner; a royal about to embark on military campaign, and a consort making a case for becoming regent in his absence; and the infuriated wife-behead-er confronting his wife who’s trying to keep a head on her shoulders.

The effect of these scenes is that the couple playing them feels like the real deal, that they are like the rest of us; two spouses who sometimes get caught up in a heady, heartfelt and physical mix of bedroom politics. Relations made more complicated by the King’s ex-brother-in-law Thomas Seymour (Sean Baek), Kate’s lover-in-waiting.

The play’s crescendo comes when Kate faces a trumped up charge of treason and heresy. For her audacity to contemplate a marriage tantamount to a partnership that would put Parr on par with Hal throws him into a rage. He may be her husband but he is King above all.

The devout woman’s prayerful response, articulated exquisitely with period-appropriate language and life-and-death appropriate emotion, put Stubel into a humbling league of her own. We beseeched with her at the edge of our seats.

Kate is not at that moment the ‘proto-feminist’ that some have called Hennig’s protagonist. Celine Stubel delivers Parr evocatively, with grace and finesse, as potent a mixture of feminine as there is.

Full marks, all stars.

At GCTC, November 3 to November 20, 2016. Call the box office at 613-236-5196 .
collage of 2 photos of actors in modern dress on stage
Photo Caption: Kate and King go head-to-head (actors Celine Stubel and Oliver Becke), then Kate with Lover-in-waiting in bed (Sean Baek). Photos by Emily Cooper.

 

 

**[Ed: Anne of Cleves was the last ‘wife’ of Henry to die, 10 years after Henri VIII. Her marriage to Henry had been annulled (as never consummated) so it could be argued that she was never truly married to him. She was the uncrowned Queen of England from 6 January 1540 to 9 July 1540 as the fourth wife before the annulment. She was later called the King’s Beloved Sister in honor of her position and good relations with the remarried King. She would die in the same house that Catherine Parr had moved to after Henry’s death in 1547.]

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