A Man For All Seasons
Berkshire Theatre Festival's production of Robert Bolt's estimable A Man for All Seasons demonstrates the intellectual vigor of a play to be appreciated, as it already has been, for decades and decades. First presented in 1960, the script centers around Sir Thomas More during the early portion of the sixteenth century in England. Cerebral and devoted to his wife and children, More never strays from his powerful ethical position. Performances continue in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, through August 9th.
More (Eric Hill) cannot endorse strategy devised by King Henry VIII (Gareth Saxe) to divorce and marry anew as the King attempts to produce a male presence who will ascend to the throne. David Chandler plays the easy-to-despise Thomas Cromwell, adviser to the King. Cromwell, zealous in his desire to deceive, attempts to flatter More. Eventually, Cromwell confers with Richard Rich (Tommy Schrider), a low-life type who will do most anything to elevate his own status.
From the outset, it's clear that More, a man of strength and moral virtue, will fight with honesty and deep-rooted conviction. He will not support the King's decision to divorce. More is non-theatrical; rather, he is quiet and his calm demeanor is affecting.
A Man for All Seasons also focuses on More's family. His wife Alice (Diane Prusha) is loyal but she cannot immediately support her husband. Ultimately, she comprehends why Thomas must remain steadfast. Their lovely yet saddened daughter Margaret (Tara Franklin) stays by her father pretty much throughout.
The play is three hours long and actor Walter Hudson, as The Common Man, provides narrative links which assist as the complex story unfolds. It's a large cast show with political implications. More will not take an oath of allegiance to King Henry as the ruler reigns supreme over Church in England. Hence, the scholar is jailed.
Bolt wrote screenplays for movies such as Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia as well as the one for A Man for All Seasons. For the current Berkshire Theatre Festival Main Stage production, Bolt's sculpted script provides a foundation. Joseph Varga's scenic design opens up the stage. Initially, Varga provides but a few standing columns appropriate to the time period. When necessary, appropriate sets, including (for example) scaffolding appear.
Director Richard Corley fashions a presentation which would have worked during past decades as well as in the future. It is solid, sensible and, at suitable moments, impassioned. The show honors the 1530s in England but never feels dated. That the period piece feels fresh and valuable is very much due to the director's vision.
Eric Hill is a versatile dramatist who has established himself impressively as an actor, director and teacher. Unhurried as Sir Thomas More, Hill performs with enviable confidence. As the skilled athlete allows a contest to come to him, Hill builds his character slowly at the outset and with increasing dynamism. At first, he is conversational. Later, his certainty is evident and he speaks with definition and courage. He will not be shaken. This is a sustaining and incisive performance.
Prusha, who performed many times during the past twenty years at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, acts with discipline and dimension. Even if Prusha's Alice cannot quite agree with his motivation, it is obvious that she loves her husband. Chandler, playing the bad guy, is adept and consistently venomous. Franklin, as Margaret, is emotive and sweet. Virtually all of the supporting personnel are excellent.
Clearly, A Man for All Seasons is, on a specific level, a battle of wills. More will never waver; nor will Henry VIII. Cromwell does the dirty work. Rich is an earlier representative of the cunning, compromising politico who (during our current era) will do most anything to further his career. Thomas More, however, is wise, philosophical and unyielding. Hill's performance honors that special dignity.
A Man for All Seasons continues at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, Massachusetts through August 9th. For ticket information, call (413) 298-5576 or visit www.berkshiretheatre.org.
- Fred Sokol