REVIEW: Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry (Piccolo Theatre)

A royal cat fight

 

Amy Gorelow as Catherine of Aragon Denita Linnertz as Catherine Parr Brianna Sloane as Jane Seymour
 
Piccolo Theatre presents
 
Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry
 
Created by Foursight Theatre, UK
Devised by the Women of
Piccolo Theatre 
at the
Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main St. (map)
through June 5th | tickets: $15-$20 | more info
 

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Though its been more than 500 years since his rule, England’s King Henry VIII still ranks in the minds of many as one of the most boorish and misogynistic men to ever hold the title of head of state. That’s saying something considering we live in a world that brought us the likes of Attila the Hun, Ivan the Terrible and Adolph Hitler. Yet unlike these other wretched men, there’s always been a bit of a whimsical fascination with Bluff Harry from Herman’s Hermits’ “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am” to Piccolo Theatre’s production of Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry.

Dani Bryant as Anne Boleyn Originally created by the women of Foursight Theatre in the UK, Six Dead Queens is one part cabaret, one part biography and a whole lot of comedy. It stars the six unfortunate wives of King Henry VIII all forced to spend eternity at a sleepover. Like school-age girls at an overnight, they talk about boys—or rather one particular boy—while poking each other with catty jabs—sometimes in the form of words and sometimes in the form of swords.

The opening scene sets the tone perfectly. As all the women lie concealed under the covers, the silence of the moment is broken by a well-paced series of flatulent outbursts. This dashes any worries that we’re about to be bored by a heady academic romp through history.

Next, each queen is introduced through song. There’s the spicy Spaniard Katherine of Aragon (Amy Gorelow), the beheaded Anne Boleyn (Dani Bryant), little-miss-perfect Jane Seymour (Brianna Sloane), dumb and ugly Anna of Cleves (Leeann Zahrt), the promiscuous Kathryn Howard (Nicole Keating) and the motherly Catherine Parr (Denita Linnertz). The actresses’ multi-part harmony is impressive as is their adeptness with instruments. This talent enhances the humor. What could be funnier than watching the very serious Katherine of Aragon bang out a bass line on an upright?

Characters squabble with one another in catfight fashion. Katherine of Aragon and her successor Anne Boleyn, whom the King tried to court behind Katherine’s back, row as do Boleyn and her successor Jane Seymour, whom bore the King his only son, Prince Edward.

Nicole Keating as Kathryn Howard There’s also ample ganging up. Anna of Cleves gets it the worst, bearing the reputation of being ugly and foul smelling. Her marriage with the King lasted a brief six months, which in the judgmental eyes of the other ladies, makes her inferior.

The play lacks any sort of cohesive plot. Instead, it plays as a series of monologues, musical numbers and sketches. It’s effective for about an hour. But by the end, Six Dead Queens runs out of any new ground to cover.

The actresses all deliver outstanding performances. Through vocal inflection, mannerisms and personality ticks, the women bring to life six unique individuals with completely separate personalities. In addition, the roles call for a sweeping spectrum of dispositions from slaphappy to somber. The performers are able to make the switch effortlessly.

Six Dead Queens is an entertaining intersection of academia and vaudeville. At times uproariously funny, at times remarkably sad, the piece successfully explores how competitiveness can make women their own worst enemies, how comfort can make them their own saviors and how men can be pigs.

 
Rating: ★★★
 
Amy Gorelow as Catherine of Aragon Brianna Sloane as Jane Seymour Dani Bryant as Anne Boleyn Denita Linnertz as Catherine Parr Nicole Keating as Kathryn Howard

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Review: Piccolo Theatre’s “Black Comedy”

Precision, passion still needed in “Black Comedy”

Black Comedy

Piccolo Theatre presents:

Black Comedy
by Peter Shaffer
directed by P. Marston Sullivan
thru October 31st (buy tickets)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

If timing is everything in comedy, then that is true in spades for Peter Shaffer’s comic staple Black Comedy, onstage now at Piccolo Theatre, directed by Peter Sullivan. Written in the 1960s, this outrageous British sex farce requires broad physical comedy blended with exquisite timing to work. Pity the cast that has not had substantial experience or training in that area. Their efforts truly are a lot of flailing around in the dark.

Black Comedy That’s too bad, because this cast definitely displays the energy for it. Brindsley (Adam Kander) is a young, struggling artist about to privately show his work at his apartment to a mysterious millionaire, Mr. Bamberger (David W. M. Kelch), who could make his fortune. The sale of his work is also meant to placate his potential father-in-law, Colonel Melkert (Andrew J. Pond), into letting him marry his poncy fiancé Carol (Liz Larsen-Silva). With Carol and Brindsley redecorating his bare flat with the posh antique furniture “borrowed” from next-door neighbor Harold (Brian Kilborn), their plans for a successful showing are ruined by a blown fuse and Harold’s early return from his weekend away in the country.

In the role of Brindsley, Kander does the yeoman’s job, in that his character must move all the furniture back to Harold’s apartment in the dark out from under everyone’s nose . . . or arse . . . or something. This is where the majority of the physical comedy takes place. Not a role for the faint of heart–or an actor without the skills of someone like Jim Carrey. What is more, Kander’s interpretation lacks the mischievousness that would make his character think that he could pull this whole thing off in the first place. Brindsley must be something more than just a desperate loser; he’s a desperate loser who thinks he can win.

Sullivan’s staging delivers some good bits, but without the requisite skills to execute them, it’s like watching the cast paint by the numbers. Spontaneity and surprise vanish into thin air.

Under-training plagues the whole production; even the dialect needs more consistency throughout the entire cast. Comic timing also goes missing in the preliminary sketches taken from British comedy favorites. It’s tough to tell a production to go back to the drawing board, but there it is.

Little moments of characterization are enjoyable: Liz Larsen-Silva is delightfully annoying as the spoiled Colonel’s daughter. Kelli Walker’s Ms. Furnival would probably writhe her way out of her clothing eventually, alcohol or not. Sandy Elias’ role as Schuppanzigh adds some badly needed, earthy humanism. The cast is certainly proficient in developing their roles. Would that their skill set had expanded sufficiently to pull off this monstrously demanding comedy.

Rating: «½

 

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