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Theater Tue Sep 25 2012

Review: Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry!

sixwives.jpg

photo by ©REP3

Six Dead Queens is a royal hoot and a definite must-see. The audience gets "The Bachelor" -- in Hell, served sixteenth century style. For those more than familiar with the Showtime series, The Tudors -- well, you know the lineup of the lives, loves and deaths of Henry VIII's hand-picked women -- a rose in one hand and a one-way ticket-to-ride the River Styx in the other. Hank V-8 was the ultimate bad boyfriend cum-husband, a man who dealt with his hurt feelings through execution or banishment, though one wife was "lucky" enough to beat banishment and death when Death chose to banish and execute Henry, instead.

Although historians have seen Henry's wives as victims all, Piccolo's production winningly plots the wives' afterlives spent on a giant round bed in Hell. Bored, carping at one another, and although they shared a bed with a serial killer who only wanted them for birthin' a boy-king for the succession of his throne, they verbally and physically spar it out for "he loved me most 'cause I was more woman than the lot of you!". Yes, "The Bachelor," but done oh so right, and translated to high comedic wit. As for the wives: the first is Catherine of Aragon (Amy Gorelow) brought from the Spanish royal court to be married off to Henry's brother Arthur. Sickly as all get out, Arthur succumbs, and once it's "proven" the marriage was never consummated, Cat is passed on to Henry like a plate of crumpets. Eight pregnancies, one stillborn, and the birth of a daughter who would grow up to be "Bloody Mary," Henry annuls their union via his new church when gets a gander of Cat's lady in-waiting...

...Anne Boleyn (Vanessa Hughes). Six fingers, maybe three breasts, but definitely willow enough to make the King give up his wife, his God, kill his best friend Thomas More, kill his religious counsel, and strip Lord Buckingham of all of his worldly possessions to gift to the Boleyn family. Their union was all good until Annie failed to produce a male heir; oh, and Henry caught a look at Anne's lady in-waiting, Jane Seymour. Her last chance Texaco ended in a stillbirth. So Henry had her accused as being a witch, and of being in an incestuous relationship with her brother George. Imprisoned in the Tower of London and eventually beheaded, Henry was so hurt by the loss of his once-beloved, he sent the executioner's invoice to their 2-year-old daughter Elizabeth, with instructions that Elizabeth would reimburse the Crown for her mother's execution.

Next up at bat, Jane Seymour (Berner Taylor), who got her Royal orders right! Got her father and brothers promoted into the King's court, accepted the wealth and property stripped from the Boleyn family for the Seymours, and immediately got knocked up with a boy. Oh the joy of success; unfortunately Janey died a couple of weeks after the birth of son Edward. The upside, she was legally declared Henry's "rightful Queen," and he was squeezed into her crypt upon his death so that they may spend eternity together.

Henry's adviser Thomas Cromwell got the idea that Henry should remarry and sire more boys, and quickly. After all, England is a drafty place, the Tudors weren't known for stamina, so a few spares for the Crown would be a good thing. Cromwell arranges Henry's marriage to Anna of Cleves (Deborah Craft Proud) -- jovial, German, didn't know Henry from Adam's housecat when they met, doomed from the get-go. Henry found Anna to be "ugly," "cow-ish," possessing too much cleavage. Cromwell's reasons for the hookup were noble -- most of Europe still hated Henry's guts for splitting with the Vatican, England needed the military backup that Protestant Germany might have to deliver. Henry didn't care. Their marriage unconsummated (the Royal Viagra Henry's doctors concocted never quite kicked in), Henry divorced Anna and made her his "legal, beloved sister" by Order of the King. Cromwell's head ended up on a spike on the gates entering London.

Henry, hurt again, decided to find his own girl next time around, using the Royal Orphanage for Noble Children as his own Match.com, and selects Catherine Howard (Nicole Keating), 15. She was the cousin of Anne Boleyn, and a teenaged sex freak. She slept with men, girls -- anyone but Henry because he just wasn't up to the job. This didn't stop Henry's counselors from "advising" Cat II that she had better come up with some heirs, preferably male, and soon -- or she'd meet her cousin Annie's fate. Thomas Culpepper comes along, and with his own political agenda at play, starts sexin' up the teen-queen. They're found out, and they both lose their heads. Still a hopeless romantic, and sick as a dog with gout, diabetes and morbid obesity, Henry needs a new wife, more for the nurse, less for the natal curse. He finds her in...

...Katherine Parr (Denita Linnertz). Nothin' much in the way of sex and political intrigue between the two, once Henry made it plain that there'd be no toleration of political and religious shenanigans. So Miss Kat (III) stuck to changing Henry's dressings and embroidering bible verses unto pillows. She literally escapes the Tudor House of Marital Horrors by outliving Henry and even remarries, but irony being what it is, becomes pregnant for the first time at thirty-five and meets the same fate in the same way as Jane Seymour.

Well, the more you know. So anyway...in case you're wonder how Henry's victims wind up...

In Hell, Cat of Aragon is filled with the piss and vinegar of being bred like Elsie and then put out to pasture for younger and steamier Anne Boleyn, who seals her fate by simply not getting that her very survival depended on birthin' a boy and not ensuring her and Henry as Europe's ultimate power couple; and poor Jane Seymour, Henry's "most beloved" on earth, but Chardonnay Mom and follower of all things organic gardening in Hell. Poor Anne Cleves got turned into the fat slob's sister, never remarried and (probably) died a virgin, she's still clueless of the damage done to her by both her German brother and her English ex-husband. It takes a while before Catherine Howard realizes that she was a kid, still hung up in Hell on Thomas Culpepper, clueless to the reality that Culpepper used her teen horniness, loneliness and desperation to try and further his career; today she's star in the reality TV show, "I Married My Own Pedophile." Katherine Parr's eternal damnation stems from her insistence that she had to be "most favored Queen" because drunken sailors found her corpse twenty years after her death and she had "miraculously failed to rot." If she hadn't rotted, that was God's way of saying she had "it" about all of 'em. Riiiight.

The brides in Hell argue, joust, swing, punch, snap and swear at one another, until they finally realize, one-by-one, that they got screwed by Henry and every other man in their lives. It's a delightfully poignant and sad affectation in a brilliantly ribald and fun production -- and all of it works. The Piccolo Ensemble of actresses is most excellent, and there are few better ways to spend an evening of theater.

Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry! is playing at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., through Oct. 6. Tickets range from $14-$29, with special group rates available. Tickets and more information at greenhousetheater.org.

John Szostek / September 26, 2012 10:31 AM

This is great theatre and not your typical Chicago fare. Piccolo Theatre deserves better recognition.

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