Chesapeake Shakespeare Company is currently offering a rarity: Maxwell Anderson's Anne of the Thousand Days. Originally produced on Broadway in 1948, this drama about the stormy relationship between King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn became a popular, opulent 1969 film starring Richard Burton and Genevieve Bujold. But to accommodate the tastes of film-going audiences, the movie script dropped most of the blank-verse passages in the original script. (Along with T.S. Eliot and Christopher Fry, Anderson was an architect of the short-lived revival of neo-Shakespearean verse drama in the mid twentieth century.) It is a delight to see and especially to hear Anderson's lush poetry, which climaxes in a series of monologues and verbal duels at the play's conclusion, as the royal marriage collapses and Anne marches to the scaffold.
A stylized version of the Globe, Chesapeake's theater provides a splendor neo-Tudor frame for the production. The three-story tall background set of Tudor arches and the dazzling, rustling costumes add to the jewel-box glow. The period vocal groups and the expertly choreographed dances enhance the professional polish of the production.
The greatest achievement of Kasi Campbell's direction is bringing out the humor in what is otherwise a tragic tale of political intrigue. The comedy behind Henry's awkward attempts at seducing Anne and Anne's stratagems to yield to Henry only at a high political price is repeatedly on display. One of the comic highlights of the production is the witty negotiating banter of the dueling couple as they dance and leap through the convoluted turns of a Tudor saraband.
The effort to bring out the tragic complexities of the lead characters is less successful. Lizzi Albert (Anne) and Ron Heneghan (Henry) bring a certain stature and ardor to their respective roles. But they tend to deliver their lines in a monotonous, declamatory manner. They rarely explore the rich emotional palette of Anderson's verse. The soaring monologues and duels of the last act require an emotional range and tonal variation which the lead actors have yet to master. One has the impression of an unfinished interpretation. Much of the supporting cast is excellent, with Yury Lomakin's Cromwell and Molly Moores's Elizabeth Boleyn (Anne's mother) as standouts. Campbell's meticulous direction of the many group scenes (concerts, dances, card games, trials, processions) enhances the production's pictorial quality.