Forget everything you learned from the recent PBS miniseries Wolf Hall. Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, currently playing at Herndon’s NextStop Theatre, tells a very different tale of Sir Thomas More (Todd Huse), Thomas Cromwell (Bruce Rauscher), and Henry VIII (Sun King Davis). The focus here is on More and his unfashionable insistence on following his conscience, as he’s pressured, by Cromwell and others, to assent to the king’s marriage to Anne Boleyn and the establishment of a new church.
It’s a profound meditation on the dangers of tyranny, the need for liberty, and the cost of doing the right thing, and the NextStop Theatre Company does it full justice. Director Gloria DuGan has pulled together a terrific cast, whose talent and chemistry breathe new life and energy into the classic play.
Each character brings a different sort of pressure to bear on More—Cromwell and Henry with their threats; More’s daughter Margaret (Megan Behm) with her affection; his wife, Alice (Laura Russell), with her inability to understand him; the Duke of Norfolk (William Aitken) with his friendship; the Spanish ambassador Chapuys (Manolo Santalla) with his temptations to treason, and so on. And each actor brings something vivid and unforgettable to his or her character.
Huse’s portrayal of More only grows stronger as the play progresses and he becomes the only sane man in a Kafkaesque world; he’s incredibly moving during his hearing and trial, after months in prison have left him physically and emotionally debilitated. Rauscher is nothing short of brilliant as the sharp and unscrupulous Cromwell. Davis, as the king whose affairs are at the center of the maelstrom, ironically has only one scene, but he makes the most of it. His Henry is highly mercurial, going from playful to quietly serious to volcanic with no warning, but always with an undercurrent of menace.
Michael Sherman as “The Common Man,” who opens and closes the show and plays several different characters in between, shifts from role to role with ease and assurance.
Brandon Herlig as the young opportunist Richard Rich, whose affable air belies his ruthless nature, gives new meaning to the phrase “the banality of evil.”
And Laura Russell is simply wonderful as Lady Alice, a practical and unsentimental woman who yet suffers deeply beneath her stoicism. Thanks to her impeccable delivery, one of the most memorable lines, in a play full of wise and witty lines, is Alice’s simple two-word observation on the prison: “It drips.” Every actor in the show is an expert at peeling away the layers of a character and exposing the truths at his or her core.
Kristina Martin’s beautifully designed costumes offer a wry commentary on the lack of justice in a world gone mad, with More and his family literally going from riches to rags while their opponents increase in wealth and splendor. Joseph St Germain’s set is also impressive, creating an authentic and opulent air in a very small space. Stan Harris’s sound effects are worthy of note as well, enhancing important moments in subtle ways (e.g., the sounds of a thunderstorm just before More and Cromwell’s first meeting).
Bolt’s 1960 play is one of those shows that will never stop being timely, in any era, and NextStop Theatre Company’s superb production helps show us why. It should not be missed.
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, plus one intermission.
An Interview with Gloria DuGan on Directing ‘A Man for All Seasons’ at NextStop Theatre Company by Joel Markowitz on DCMetroTheaterArts.