Produced by: Diane Tasca
Featuring: Kevin Copps, Geoff Fiorito, Joe Higgins, Fiona McCrea, Evan Michael Schumacher
Directed by: Jenny Hollingworth
When: October 31 (preview); runs November 1-24, 2013
Where: Pear Avenue Theatre, 1220 Pear Avenue, Mountain View, California
Tickets: $10-$35 (discounts available). Call 650-254-1148 or visit www.thepear.org
King James VI of Scotland, who became King James I of England upon the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, is one of the more interesting and important of British monarchs.
He managed his transition to power in England without the bloodshed common to the time, continued the support of art and literature begun by Elizabeth, established some means of governance that helped Great Britain begin, and to some degree kept various sects of Christianity from killing each other. And much more.
Playwright Elyce Melmon has produced a fun, charming and fascinating play, "A King's Legacy," that concentrates largely on James' family life deeply important, since his proven ability to procreate was probably a key to his accession to the English throne, which had seen problems in that area from King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth and on his direction of the translation of what is known and used today as the King James Bible.
We meet James on March 24, 1603, when John Erskine rushes into his bedchamber to wake him, and tell him Queen Elizabeth has died.
"Well, I’ll give a fourpenny fuck!" he says. "It’s about time. When, when did she die, John?"
It's good to start the play with a laugh.
It's a very good cast gathered to deliver the world premiere of this fine play at the tiny but ambitious Pear Avenue Theatre in Mountain View.
Geoff Fiorito is fabulous as King James, delivering his dialogue in a fine and consistent Scottish brogue, and flying through the many mercurial and rapid changes of his character self-righteous king; lusty lover of his wife, Queen Anne; sincere intellectual, who loves Shakespeare's plays and who wants to create beauty in the King's Bible and perhaps bring the Catholics, the Protestants and the Puritans closer together.
Fiorito even looks a little like some paintings of King James, although that doesn't matter. What does matter is his consistently appealing performance.
We want this guy to succeed, even when he's being rather selfish and churlish.
For instance, some months after Anne has lost a baby, Anne says, "You scarcely notice my ceaseless sorrow." James replies, "Now, now, my dear one. Of course, I noticed. I simply did not want to dwell on it. Fortunately we have other children."
As Queen Anne, who was born in Denmark, Fiona McCrea is appealing and beautiful, chafing from her husband's behavior. In Elizabethan and Jacobean times, women were expected to be subservient, to not be educated, and to produce babies. Most women died by their late 20s after having birthed 12 or more babies, most of which wouldn't have survived past the fifth birthday. Upper class women might fair better. The real Anne lived to the age of 45, after giving birth seven times. Three of her children survived to adulthood, including the boy who became Charles I.
The casting is pared down to the minimum to tell this story. James and Anne; and also Joe Higgins, who is excellent as Sir Robert Cecil, who helped James manage his transition to King of England; Kevin Copps is excellent as John Erskine, Jame's assistant and also teacher to Henry, son of James and Anne, whom we never see; and Evan Michael Schumacher is excellent as John Reynolds, a leader of the Puritans.
The Puritans were sort of the Taliban of Christianity at the time, minus the AK-47s and maybe the bloodlust.
Life is better for James and Anne in England, for the most part, and we see them argue about their son Henry. Anne wants him with her; he wants the boy raised by committee, as he was. (James became king of Scotland when he was 13 months old; he had lots of help and guidance till he finally took power himself.)
And we seen James argue with John Reynolds, who hates the pretty dresses on the priests and other pomp of the other churches, including all the fuss with weddings, and wants a better representation on the committee that produces the King's Bible.
Throughout, there are palatable doses of history, a little stretching of the historical record, and a tasty mix of drama and comedy, delivered in admirable performances.
It's likely that most of the production budget went into the costumes (by Lisa Lutkenhouse Lowe), which are beautiful. The sets are serviceable, but not inspiring.
They would have been well served by running a curtain over James' Scottish bedchamber at the start of the play. As it is, we see Fiorito arrive, hide himself in the blankets and begin snoring, to open the play. It was off-putting. Let him enter backstage, behind a curtain, then let us hear him snore.
It's nice that Melmon elected to write the play in modern English, not in the language of King James' time. For one thing, if it was really spoken as the language as spoken at that time, maybe 12 scholars on the planet today could understand it. It's not just the "thees" and "thous," it's that even the words we know were not pronounced the way they are pronounced now.
So, kudos to Melmon, the Pear, director Jenny Hollingworth and this cast for a delightful play.