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VALLEY WEEKEND | THEATER NOTES

Anne Boleyn's Drama Plays Out Like '90s News

Theatre Tribe brings the story of Henry VIII's domestic strife to stage. The cast notes similarities to 'power games' of today.

May 23, 1996|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A recent joke in this paper's Laugh Lines column supposed that while O.J. Simpson was in England, Queen Elizabeth was trying to fix him up with Princess Di.

Of course, problems aren't solved that way in today's royal family, but time was when they were. The most famous instance is the manner in which Henry VIII handled his domestic affairs. And possibly the most famous theatrical re-creation of Henry's activities is Maxwell Anderson's 1948 drama, "Anne of the Thousand Days," which starred Rex Harrison as Henry VIII and Joyce Redman as Anne Boleyn, the doomed mother of Elizabeth I.

And of course there was the popular 1970 film version starring Richard Burton and Genevieve Bujold. The play is rarely revived these days, and that's a shame.

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With canny timing, a new theater company called Theatre Tribe is correcting that situation with a new staging of the play opening tonight at the CBS Studio Center in Studio City. The timing is interesting because, in fact, "Anne" is less a historical drama than a play about a dysfunctional relationship, this time between a man and a woman who also happen to be a king and a queen. It sounds like today's news.

Actor Peter Henry Schroeder, who plays the influential Cardinal Wolsey in the production, also makes the comparison: Henry and Anne Boleyn, he said, "could be that era's version of O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown. The power games they played were no different than things are now."

Theatre Tribe director Stuart Rogers states emphatically that the relationship between Henry and Anne can speak to all eras.

"The play," Rogers said, "is really about this relationship that's abusive, an angry relationship, where they're at each other's throats all the time. Who hasn't been in relationships like that? That's part of what makes it more timeless than contemporary, because abusive relationships always have been, and always will be."

The huge set for this staging, built on CBS' Stage 5, includes a large turntable that facilitates "cinematic transitions," which allow for fluid, uninterrupted scene changes. Rogers said this serves his concept of the play, and allows him to zero in on the relationship--with Len Donato as Henry and Elisa Beth Garver as Anne--that is at the core of the piece.

"If you were to descend upon the Kennedys, or any powerful family, you would see the workings of a man and a woman. Behind all the trappings, behind all the glamour, behind all the success, behind the power of who they are, is this relationship," Donato said. "It makes these people human."

Garver, who said she has long wanted to play Anne, also embraces Rogers' interpretation.

"If you take them out of the context of royalty, this is a relationship I see all the time today between people I know," she said.

Anderson's use of language is one of the elements that attracted both the director and the actors to the piece.

"The language is huge," Rogers said. "The piece itself is huge."

But when the play was suggested to him, Rogers said he had no immediate idea of how to stage it. "It scared me," he said with a laugh, "so I knew I should do it."

Rogers looked at Equity 99-Seat Plan spaces all over town. He even looked at parks as a venue for Anderson's epic, because of its size. Then CBS Studio Center appeared on the horizon.

Rogers had been involved with director Michael Arabian's production of "The Trojan Woman," which played last year outdoors on the lot, and found out that Arabian was not staging anything at CBS this year. CBS offered the facility to Rogers for "Anne."

The film and television industry rarely gives more than a passing glance at legitimate theater, but "Anne of the Thousand Days" proves that in some situations they can appear quite kindly.

"Here we are," Rogers said. "That's what's so incredible about this. I cannot even begin to say how much help they've been, how much support they give us."

DETAILS

* WHAT: "Anne of the Thousand Days."

* WHERE: CBS Studio Center, 4024 Radford Ave., Studio City.

* WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2:30 and 8 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 30.

* HOW MUCH: $25.

* CALL: (213) 466-1767.

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