Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
A Man for All Seasons
Set on the cusp of the English Reformation, A Man for All Seasons begins several years into King Henry VIII's escalating conflict with Pope Clement VII. Henry has been seeking a dispensation from the Pope to have his marriage to Queen Catherine annulled so that he can marry Anne Boleyn and sire a male heir. A devout Catholic and close advisor to the King, Thomas More is unwilling to support Henry's plan to divorce Catherine but agrees to serve him as Lord High Chancellor of England. During his time as Chancellor, More's religious ideology becomes increasingly difficult to reconcile with the King's escalating hostility toward Rome. When More falls from grace, cunning Thomas Cromwell rises in power, thanks to his ability to "get things done" for the King. Cromwell and More repeatedly come into conflict as More's refusal to acquiesce stifles Cromwell's ability to effectively deliver Henry what he desires.
The historical chronology is summed up by our narrator, the Common Man (Scott Greer), but A Man for All Seasons is less about the history of the Reformation and more about the people who lived it. We experience More's struggle to follow the dictates of his conscience while staying in the King's good graces. We see the love he feels for his wife Alice (Mary Elizabeth Scallen) and his daughter Margaret (Morgan Charéce Hall).
Frank X does an incredible job bringing More to life and it is riveting to watch him discuss philosophy, religion and law. He speaks like a man struggling at the edge of understanding, taking the audience along as he considers and rejects, finally coming to new or altered conclusions. X has a genuine connection with Scallen and Hall. The early scenes in their home are warmly inviting and their hard parting is moving. Scallen is vivacious and wise as Alice. Hall gives Margaret a graceful, gentle intelligence.
My favorite moments are when X interacts with Lawton. Whether they are oh-so-politely exchanging pleasantries or going head to head in the most high stakes verbal conflicts, the air between them crackles. A story is only as good as its villain, and Lawton is deliciously detestable as Cromwell.
Jake Blouch plays several roles, but is especially compelling as pompous and somewhat befuddled King Henry VIII. There is a subtle but powerful evolution in Benjamin Brown's interpretation of the self-possessed Duke of Norfolk. Gregory Isaac is suave and devious as ambassador Eustace Chapuys.
A Man for All Seasons soars in its portrayal of the humanity behind these great men and in its well-executed philosophical rhetoric, but falters in it's attempts at humor. Instead of picking up the tempo, the comedy interludes break up the action and slow things down. Scott Greer is under-utilized in his role as the Common Man, cracking wise and narrating events for the audience. Greer plays the Common Man as a buffoon, basically blundering his way though history. With no intelligence or edge, the common man becomes a silly distraction and Greer cannot connect with the audience.
James F. Pyne, Jr.'s set design is uncomplicated and effective, evoking the period and providing a multi-leveled space for the ensemble to move in. There were some issues with Christopher Colucci's sound design at the performance I attended, but the lighting design by Lily Fossner is excellent and well executed. Kelly Myers' period costumes are lovely, but the ill-fitting black clothes on Greer just look really uncomfortable.
This is the first time since its 1960 London premiere that A Man for All Seasons has come to Philadelphia. Bolt's drama still provides a unique historical perspective, and DeLaurier's production showcases some serious talent. If you are interested in European history, this production is an especially gratifying experience.
The Lantern Theater Company's A Man for All Seasons runs through April 10, 2022, at the Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancy Place, Philadelphia PA. For tickets and information, please visit www.lanterntheater.org or call 215-829-0395