Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

The Virgin Trial
Cygnet Theatre
Review by David Dixon | Season Schedule

Tom Stephenson, Lisel Gorell-Getz, and Olivia Hodson
Photo by Karli Cadel
Last year, Cygnet Theatre presented Kate Hennig's The Last Wife, the first part of "The Queenmaker Trilogy," a series of plays about the Tudor women. The second chapter, The Virgin Trial, is now getting its U.S. premiere in Old Town and is just as compelling as the 2018 play. In a similar fashion to The Last Wife and in keeping with current fashion, Hennig's script deals with historical events through a contemporary, feminist lens, using today's language and costumes. While her earlier political drama dramatized the marriage between Katherine Parr and Henry VIII, this play focuses on Henry's daughter, Elizabeth I. Events take place during and after the The Last Wife.

The plot mainly consists of the 15-year-old Elizabeth (Bess), played by Olivia Hodson, being interrogated by the Lord Protector to Edward VI (Tom Seward) and Eleanor, a lady of the court, played by Lisel Gorell-Getz. The Lord Protector happens to be Elizabeth's uncle through marriage, Edward Seymour, or Ted, the Earl of Hartford. The pair are questioning Bess following the deaths of Katherine (Kate) and Henry. Thomas Seymour, or Thom (played by Steven Lone), the brother of Ted and widower of Kate, has been arrested on charges that he attempted to kill Bess' brother Edward (whose contemporary name becomes Eddie). The interrogators believe that Bess and Thom were having an affair and hatched the plot to murder Eddie. Despite Bess' efforts at protesting her innocence, flashbacks reveal a complicated relationship with Thom, and Ted and Eleanor's efforts to find the truth become increasingly dangerous.

While Hennig's script for The Last Wife was in the vein of a political thriller, The Virgin Trial plays out like a mystery. Both plays display a similar mixture of witty dialogue and dark material. Except for a few excessive scenes involving a character being tortured (which features visually distinct use of shadow by lighting designer Chris Rynne), the mixture of smart dialogue and intensity are well balanced in the story.

Associate Artistic Director Rob Lutfy is back to direct the second part of Hennig's saga, and his direction creates plenty of tension, particularly during scenes in the interrogation room. Elizabeth Puksto's set is primarily made up of a table, which effectively represents the interrogation room, while MaeAnn Ross' audio incorporates some unsettling music (and effects like thunder) that enhances the tone of the theatrical piece.

Lutfy gets memorable performances from the cast, particularly from Hodson, who depicts Bess as a fiercely intelligent future queen with a wholesome veneer. Stephenson and Gorell-Getz, as Ted and Eleanor, have a good cop/bad cop dynamic when questioning Bess, with the former being funny and warm and the latter cold and ruthless. The only returning cast member from The Last Wife is Lone, and his role is given more depth. He expertly plays Thom, portraying him as caring, charismatic, disturbed and scary. Rounding out the cast are Wil Bethmann, Monique Gaffney, and Brittney M. Caldwell and all are haunting and humorous in the play.

Lutfy and Hennig continue to make a great pair with this contemporary take on one of the many important chapters of Elizabeth's life, and they provide a suspenseful and thought-provoking experience.

The Virgin Trial runs through October 6, 2019, at Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St, San Diego CA. Tickets start at $25.00 and can be purchased online at or by phone at 619-337-1525.