If Timothy Burton were one of my history teachers, I would’ve been prepared for the performance of Six Dead Queens. As it stands, I was educated by the Piccolo Theatre Company at the Greenhouse Theater in Chicago on September 28th in the lives, through the deaths, of the six wives of Henry VIII.
This lively postmortem vindicates and gives satisfaction to these women in the historical record. The sextet portraying the royal Six kept the audience engaged, chuckling, pausing to reflect, and laughing more. They were energized and energizing, the personas of each articulated and poured out over the bed and on the rest of the stage.
The music and song were an added pleasure and a well-fit comic accompaniment to the play. The actors played and sang in a bit of a medieval danse macabre meets The King and I meets Edward Scissorhands style. They were boisterous and bawdy and altogether believable in their expressions of anger, jealousy, insecurity and hatred.
This is not simply a “dead” comedy, though. The themes of Woman’s dignity, honesty regarding the injustices perpetrated against women by a culture obsessed with male succession, and the hypocrisy of demanding female ﬁdelity in the presence of socially-sanctioned male harlotry are much the issues today as in pre-Elizabethan England. The script, acting, scores and singing helped ﬁnger all places at all times when inconsistencies and unquestioned biases raise their ugliness.
The setting of a large bed as the main prop/stage was the perfect scaffold for the winching of female utilitarianism. The shadowy crowns that were donned at different points of the performance highlighted the historical back steps of women’s continued struggle with the temptation of being “The One” in a man’s life. The incessant competitiveness, sniping, jabbing and fighting (once with swords and daggers) showed this tragic, millennia-old pattern.
The red and black dominant in the costuming was the perfect backdrop for the death white on the actors’ faces. The highlighting of their eyes and mouths cooperated well with actors’ own facial expressions, each one symbolizing with clarity their own character’s persona.
Henry’s “appearance” at the end was a fitting climax and provided the tools of a satisfactory resolution. The mock execution was cathartic and sewed this tragi-comedic drama into a well-received conclusion.
Six Dead Queens and An Inflatable Henry plays through October 6th at the Greenhouse Theater.