“Ladies In Waiting: The Judgement of Henry VIII” – Southwest Shakespeare Company

Theater Review – April 15, 2018


Southwest Shakespeare Company, Pavilion Theater, Taliesin West
Scottsdale, AZ

After years of mediocre productions helmed by artistic director Jared Sakren, weak directors, and inept acting ensembles, Southwest Shakespeare Company struggled financially as audiences shrunk and the company’s reputation fell significantly.  With a new professional artistic team from New York City, things have improved dramatically.

The event that attracted this critic’s attention was a professional Shakespearean actor who had played roles here recently and penned a look at British King Henry VIII who ate prolifically and was plagued by his six wives.  “Ladies In Waiting: The Judgement of Henry VIII” toured the United Kingdom as it revealed the famous King dreaming in purgatory about the things that each wife taught him.  Please note that the play’s title uses the British spelling of judgment.

SSC brought the play’s author and star, James Couger Canfield, and his original Catherine of Aragon, Hilary Kelman, here to present the play’s regional theater premiere at Scottsdale’s Taliesan West’s Pavilion Theater, a welcome alternative space for the company to perform more intimate plays.

Joining the two fine original cast members is Mitchell Glass who staged the play’s British premiere and brings effervescence and moxie to the fascinating discussion.  Glass’ simple production conveys a striking urgency on the piece while a quintet of solid new performers portrays Henry’s other wives with individualistic distinctions.

Canfield’s script makes what could be dry history into juicy and revealing insights that turn these figures into dramatic and frightening real people.  The play’s short running time – 70 minutes – is just right to provide distinctive historical details as audiences are transported back in time to the sixteenth century.  The Taliesin West Pavilion Theater proves the perfect place for this intimate purgatory-set dialogue/dream of the woman-hungry English King.  The play is presented without scenery and the action is staged against stark red curtains that further insinuate the situation’s historic terror.

The awkward confrontations with each wife includes Catherine of Aragon, his original wife, portrayed strikingly by Kelman, Anne of Cleves played forthrightly by Lucy Atkins, Katherine Parr portrayed apologetically by Bonnie Beus Romney, Catherine Howard played simply by Bailey Smith, Anne Boleyn is intellectually drawn by Katherine Stewart, and Jane Seymour’s insightful understanding is brought forcibly to life by Melissa Toomey.  Historical dramas like this are never easy because each performer must portray well-known historical figures drawing only on small but unique distinctions that differentiate each person’s unique characteristics.

“Ladies In Waiting: The Judgement of Henry VIII” makes this complex historic situation vibrantly alive as these characters are made into dynamic personages.  The play continues through April 22 at the Taliesin West Pavilion Theater.  Order tickets through www.swshakespeare.org.

Grade: A