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Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Anne Boleyn
Marin Theatre Company
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's recent reviews of The Lion, San Francisco, Here I Come and Patrick's review of The Heir Apparent

Craig Marker and Liz Sklar
Photo by Kevin Berne
Through May 8, Marin Theatre is presenting Howard Brenton's magnificent drama Anne Boleyn, which takes the audience into the courts of James I and Henry VIII who interact with each other. It's one of the most inventive productions I have seen in a long time.

The play is a brilliant twist on the story of King Henry VIII (Craig Marker) and his ambitious second wife Anne Boleyn (Liz Sklar) during the reformation of the Catholic Church and her tragic demise.

The audience first sees the sparkling, lively Anne alone on the stage with a bloody bag in her hands. She teases the audience about whether or not to show its contents. She pulls out a small William Tyndale banned book which we will discover more about later. She then pulls out her severed head and reminds the audience of the outcome of her life. Suddenly, we are taken into the reign of James I.

A chest belonging to Anne Boleyn is brought to James I for his amusement. Inside is the banned book, William Tyndale's translation of the Bible from Latin to English, highlighting Anne's philosophy that the Bible should belong to everyone—an idea also shared by James which the playwright uses as the connection throughout the drama. This sets the scene for the rest of play, with scenes jumping back and forth between Henry III and James I. We also learn that Anne's passion for a reformed church might have been the reason she was executed.

The playwright gets away from the popular image of Anne as the doomed siren and shows her to be a resolute, deeply religious woman who deployed her sexual power to become a "conspirator for Christ." The play is full of big characters who fill the Marin Theatre splendidly, from Charles Shaw Robinson's poisonous Cardinal Wolsey to David Ari's manipulative Thomas Cromwell to Dan Hiatt's William Tyndale. The confrontations between Wolsey and Tyndale are breathtaking. In parallel with Anne Boleyn's story wherein Henry woos Anne, James chases George Villiers for a different kind of illicit relationship. Two and one half hours with intermission fly by with the high quality acting by the ten actors and quickly changed scenes directed beautifully by Jasson Minadakis.

Craig Marker gives a brilliant portrayal of both monarchs: the cross-dressing, lively King James with a perfect Scottish accent and the loutish King Henry VIII. Liz Sklar gives an absorbing performance as Anne Boleyn. Howard Swain, Dan Hiatt, and Charles Shaw Robinson give outstanding performances as Dean Lancelot Andrews, William Tyndale, and Cardinal Wolsey, especially when they are confronting each other about religious matters. Ryan Tasker, Carrie Lyn Brandon, David Ari, Arwen Anderson, and Lauren Spencer all give pitch perfect performances in various roles.

Bravo to Jasson Minadakis and his team: Nina Ball for a regal set, Ashley Holvick for gorgeous costumes, Kurt Landisman for spectacular lighting, and dramaturges Lydia Garcia and Maddie Gaw for spot-on dialects by the characters. They all made what by rights might have been a dry, admirable evening into something really special. This is a big and bold production.

Anne Boleyn plays through May 8th, 2016, at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave. Mill Valley. For tickets call 415-388-5203 or visit Coming up next is Ayad Akhtar's The Invisible Hand opening on June 2nd and running through June 26.

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