BYU Theatre, on a seemingly unstoppable winning streak this year, has scored again with “A Man for All Seasons,” playing through Feb. 6 in the Margetts Theatre.
Director David Morgan has compiled a marvelous cast with not a weak link in it, and the play — despite being extremely dialogue- and message-heavy — moves along briskly, almost lightly.
It is the 1520s, and King Henry VIII (Chris Clark) is no longer satisfied with his wife Catherine. He wants to dump her and marry Anne Boleyn (whom, history will show, he later beheaded anyway), but the Catholic church won’t let him. So he has begun spreading the word that his marriage is not valid in the eyes of God anyway, citing a Bible verse that makes it wrong to marry your brother’s widow, which Catherine was. And if the Pope won’t let him divorce her, and forces him to stay in this “sham” marriage, then the Pope must be off his rocker, which means the king is under no obligation to follow him, which means he is free to start his own church — the Church of England, as it came to be known.
Enter Sir Thomas More (James Claflin), the king’s new chancellor and friend. More is the most moral and upright of men, a truly good-hearted individual who even allows his daughter to marry a Lutheran, despite his own personal allegiance to the church of Rome. He is a cautious man, avoiding even the appearance of disloyalty or disobedience.
So when the king wants to know More’s opinion on this whole “Church of England” thing, it gets messy. Actually, the king knows his opinion — everyone does, just by inference — but More has been careful not to SAY it. As long as he doesn’t, he’s safe from treason charges. He won’t even tell his loving, long-suffering wife (Tavya Patch) or his loving, long-suffering daughter (Emmelyn Thayer), just in case the king hauls them in and forces them, under oath, to say what they know: If they don’t know how More feels, then they can’t tell anyone.
For this silence — and for his refusal to sign a loyalty oath (and, more maddeningly, to even say WHY he won’t sign it) — More is cast in prison by the scheming Cromwell (Scott Christopher). And yet he never backs down from his principles. This is frustrating at times, as we wonder if it’s really worth it all. As he is in prison, his family is starving. Where do you draw the line? Does loyalty to God always override loyalty to family? These questions are not completely answered, and that’s the point. “A Man for All Seasons” is written like an ethics textbook case study (in fact, it WAS a case study in the ethics class I took), and there are no right or wrong answers. What is right for More isn’t necessarily right for everyone else — the point, ultimately, is to obey your conscience.
James Claflin is fantastic as Thomas More. The character never fails to be believable and genuine, with just a hint of enigmatic charm. Chris Clark has very little stage time as the king, but he makes that time count, rocking the theater with the charisma, energy and wit that have become his trademark as an actor. His scene with More is the moment at which the audience becomes hooked, and the play never lets up from there.
Ryan Rauzon is solid as More’s son-in-law Roper, and Chris Kendrick — another excellent local theater personality — is dignified as always in his portrayal of Chapuys, a Spanish dignitary who also seeks to know More’s mind.
Tavya Patch and Emmelyn Thayer wind up with little to do as More’s family — until the jail scene, when they bring forth a whole play’s worth of emotion. Watch as More’s wife (Patch) is whisked away, and we realize he will probably never see her again. Watch his forced cheerfulness as he says, “Goodbye, my love” as she is sobbing, being pulled away by the jailor. That one devastating moment works powerfully because of the superb acting skills of those two performers — skills that run through the entire cast.
The play’s ending is not entirely happy, but it doesn’t seem sad, either — and I guess that’s the point. A man standing up for his beliefs is admirable, noble and magnificent, never sad or pathetic. The idea of such dedication to one’s own morals almost seems quaint in this day and age, but “A Man for All Seasons” makes it sound like a good idea again.
It was strictly an oversight that I neglected to mention Daniel Hess, who played the Common Man. This character acts as a sort of narrator, and plays several "common" characters throughout the play. It's a role that could be easily dismissed as non-essential, but Hess's performance proved just how vital the part is. I regret not mentioning him in the review; it was due to pressures of deadline and lack of sleep that I forgot him
I'm not sure about the title of this play. Thomas More was great, but was he a man for ALL seasons? Summer, sure, and probably spring. But winter? I don't know.