By Kate Henning.
Directed by Nick Bowling.
At TimeLine Theatre, Chicago
New perspective on the last wife of Henry VII.
Canadian actress/playwright Kate Henning’s Chicago premiere of The Last Wife is part history drama and part early feminist explanation. Using modern dress and contemporary language, The Last Wife looks at the role that the sixth wife of English King Henry VII (1491 – 1547), Katherine Parr (AnJi White) in shaping the ascension to the English monarchy as the first politically strong Queen. Wanting to know as Kate, Parr stood up to the intimidating Henry VII (the commanding Steve Pickering). She negotiated her marriage to Henry as a confident yet sensual persona that Henry found irresistible.
Kate’s agreement with Henry included her ability to say ‘no’ to Henry’s sexual advances; be mother to his three children; promise to install young Eddie to the throne upon Henry’s death. Kate enhanced the role of women (and queens) in government as Henry made her regent while he was away warring in France. She was influential in Henry’s passing of the Third Succession Act in 1542 that restored both his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, to the line of succession to the throne.
Kate Henning’s drama focuses on the character of King Henry as Steve Pickering plays him as a tough, commanding despot who appreciates a strong woman if they are sexy and ultimately loyal. This Henry is, indeed, king who is willing to use his power however he desires. His love for Kate allows her to be more that a nurse-mate to his three children. Rather he elevates her to political power due to her loyalty and competence. She emerges as an almost equal in an age when most women spent their time knotting. Kate open the doors (literally) for Mary and Elizabeth to govern.
As a play, The Last Wife is well written with several excellent performances. Steve Pickering is well cast as Henry VII as Pickering demonstrates the King’s confidence, his education and his vulnerability effectively. His charisma, charm and cunning are all present as he continues his sexual exploits despite his deteriorating health. This is a fine performance from one of the finest actors in Chicago.
AnJi White presents Kate as a smart, determined and sensual woman whose talents move from being a mother/teacher to Henry’s children to loyal wife to cunning political operative. White is a force on stage whose personal power dominates many of her scenes. AnJi White is an actress who we will see more of. Several supporting roles are worth noting. Nate Santana, as Thom Seymour, Paula Sanchez Abreu and Peyton Shaffer added fine moments to this show.
This brilliant script foreshadows the rise of feminist power in early English dynasties even with an all powerful king. This drama is made relevant by the commanding performance from AnJi White making The Last Wife really AnJi White’s play.
Date Reviewed: October 1, 2016.
For more info checkout The Last Wife page at theatreinchicago.com.
At TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington, Chicago, IL, call 773-281-8463, www.timelinetheatre.com, tickets $38 (Wed thru Fri), $46 (sat evening), $51 (sat. & sun. matinees), Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 9 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through December 18, 2016.