Monday, March 7, 2016

Spring Play: A Man for All Seasons

This was the first staged production (at Newman University here in Wichita) of Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons I have ever seen. The play differs most from the movie in the inclusion of the Common Man (which in this production included a Common Woman), a kind of chorus offering commentary on the story while also playing small roles (servant, jailer, etc). Newman's theatre department staged the play on a multi-level, stationary set, with few props--and a boat that glided along the Thames.

The production was a straightforward presentation of Bolt's play, emphasizing More's steadfastness, as this story from Newman University notes:

“A Man for All Seasons,” written by Robert Bolt, is based on the true story of Sir Thomas More, the 16th-century Chancellor of England who refused to endorse King Henry VIII’s wish to divorce his wife who did not bear him a son.

“I believe it is the tale of one man who chose to remain as steadfast as a stone while the rushing river of the times attempted to budge him from himself,” Director of Theatre Mark Mannette said. “When he did not budge, remaining true to himself, they found a means to end him. Later sainted for his martyrdom, he became St. Thomas More. In life, when so many people follow the herd, it is refreshing to see the bravery of an individual who does not.”

Newman senior Mark Carlson, who plays Sir Thomas More, said the role has been a good experience.

“The role of Sir Thomas More is, I feel, one of the most complicated yet rewarding characters I have portrayed,” Carlson said. “The play does an excellent job of portraying everyone in both positive and negative lights. No one character is truly ‘good’ or ‘evil,’ but a mixture of the two. More’s strict adherence to law and his devotion to the Catholic Church is both his most admirable quality and the cause of his descent from royal favor. More is at times a dry wit, a passionate spokesman for justice, and a calculating lawyer, torn by loyalties to both God and his country.”

I appreciated Carlson's portrayal of More; in fact, nearly all of the roles were well done. I appreciated even more what a foil to More the character of Will Roper is: he's the one who should be the martyr, but More ends up in his place. The Common Man and Woman actors sometimes "lost" their lines--in their rapid delivery and stage movements including prop management, the impact and humor was reduced. The portrayal of Henry VIII lacked majesty: he was mercurial and menacing, but when he was supposed to be charming, he seemed almost lecherous. But Carlson portrayed More's careful negotiation of the trap that was being sprung around him very well: thoughtfully, compassionately; with humor and pathos both.

I've been posting and speaking about the contrast between the good "Seasons" More and the bad "Wolf Hall" More quite a bit, but after seeing the play--not the movie with all its production values, music, and Paul Scofield's majestic performance, etc--I'm rethinking even the foundation of Bolt's characterization of Sir Thomas More. My reaction was that Bolt's More is such a lawyer, so bound up with the law, placing such faith in the law and the administration of justice, that his condemnation and death seemed an even greater injustice to me. He seems even more innocent and indeed as naive as many of his friends, enemies, and family members say he is. The repeated comment, "This isn't Spain" referencing the Black Legend of Spanish injustice and persecution was the bellwether: Henry VIII's and Cromwell's England WAS Spain. 

All the laws in the world can't protect a man if the administration of justice is determined to destroy him. More protects himself and his family, who also suffer, as much as he can, but Cromwell will persecute him on Henry's behalf. Once the powerful start manipulating the laws and the administration of justice, no appeals to the Magna Carta or English Common Law will protect either the innocent or the guilty--even if you give the devil his due process in the hope of defending yourself . With thoughts like these roiling around in my brain Saturday night, I did not sleep well. But as the Common Man says at the end of the play, I'm still breathing. And you?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing a thoughtful review of our production. I'm pleased it made you think and contributed to your ongoing exploration.