Gamm's Ann Boleyn is off-the-wall but also serious

Jan 23, 2013

Oh my goodness, folks, those wacky Brits are back. They arrived Monday night in a slippery snowstorm using as their invasion vehicle the much anticipated, and much hyped, “Anne Boleyn” by veteran troublemaking playwright Howard Brenton. You will remember his work if you caught the deliciously provocative play “Paul” which celebrated the life of St. Paul at the Gamm a while ago.

This time, he looks in on the life and times of one of Britain’s great and well- remembered heroines, Anne Boleyn. You’ll probably remember that she was celebrated as Henry the 8th’s feisty second wife -- at least until he had her be-headed, that is.

In “Anne Boleyn” Brenton has truly created a hybrid play. On one hand it is filled with sometimes hilarious humor as the playwright titillates his audience with goofy affairs both gay and straight, erection jokes, and a summary of medieval birth  control devices, that I have no intention of going into here.

Madeleine Lambert as Anne Boleyn
Credit Peter Goldberg

Suffice to say the wit and wisdom of Monte Python is present in “Anne Boleyn” as is, perhaps, the schlock of Benny Hill, too.

But this play, directed with a sprightly attitude that may have overshadowed its serious drive by Rachel Walshe, is also a serious look at some serious subjects. The rights of women, or the lack of them, for instance. Or the place of religion, for good or evil in any society.

I’ll try and sum up the plot. We have Henry Eight played with muscular confidence and crazed sentiment by the always reliable Gamm regular, Steve Kidd. Henry, as we all sort of remember, liked the ladies and made no bones about it. He’s particularly nuts for Ms. Boleyn. Be my mistress, he says, you’ll love it. But she has other ideas. Such as becoming Queen of England. Henry, she tells her suitor, there will be no fun and games until I have a crown.

This goes on for more than five years as England struggles mightily with the conflict between the Catholic Church and rising Protestant-ism.

Gamm newcomer Madeleine Lambert seems to get off to a slow start as Boleyn telegraphing her character’s every move. But in the end, she catches you up very well as a woman struggling mightily in a very much man’s world.

Other historical figures abound. Listed as “co-director” of the production artistic director Tony Estrella is gay-ly hilarious as King James the First.  Tom Gleadow is an all-hands-on-deck -- and do it loudly -- Cardinal Wolsey. Jim O’Brian makes Thomas Cromwell into a purposeful but going-too-far climber. Sam Babbitt and Casey Seymour Kim are wonderful, wry in his case and greatly affecting in hers.

You have undoubtedly noted many historically famous names here. I recommend that, unless you are an advanced degree holder in Brit history, you do just a tad of research before you see “Anne Boleyn.” That will give you more enjoyment while watching this goofy, off-the-wall but also quite serious work at the Gamm.

Want to Go?

“Anne Boleyn” continues at the Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket through February 24th.

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