Tuesday, September 17, 2019

“The Virgin Trial”: A Case For Your Consideration.

A virgin princess, a grab for power, a lust for love, violence against women, jealousy, ambition and a family at odds with itself makes for some powerful drama. In the skilled hands and keen eyes of director Rob Lutfy, and with a sensational cast of seven seasoned actors, Kate Hennig’s “The Virgin Trial” is more than ready for prime time. It will be playing on Cygnet’s stage in Old Town through Oct. 6th. Run, don’t walk.

It’s the second in her trilogy (The first, “The Last Wife” was seen at Cygnet last year in an excellent production). ‘Trial’ will be followed at some point, by her third “Mother’s Daughter” shown recently at Canada’s Stratford Festival.

As of now putting the three together, one might call them her ‘Tudor Queens Trilogy’. Since Elizabeth’s reign lasted a little over 40 years, I’m sure Ms. Hennig will manage a few more tid bits in the way of plays.

Lufty eats this stuff up and thankfully so. He may not be the King of England but he certainly reigns as champion of Hennig. “The Virgin Trial” is a San Diego premiere as was “The Last Wife”.  

‘Trial’, the companion piece, is a slight overlap of the continuing saga for power, ambition, greed, sex and loyalty as the then royal family struggles for its place in the history of Queen Elisabeth I

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Elizabeth’s uncle Ted Seymour Lord Protector, (Tom Stephenson) and his partner in crime or the uptight lady of the court Eleanor (Lisel Gorell- Getz) ‘with the tape recorder, are in the middle of questioning the young princess as the play opens. One does get the sense from the get-go that justice is not a top priority on their get to know the facts check off list. (“So I’m free to go”?)

The topic was treason and young Bess was being accused of and questioned for plotting to kill her younger half- brother Edward. He was sickly and only nine and as heir apparent to the throne after Henry VIII’s death he needed adult advice. That was how it stood until…

She would have been the third in line after Mary (Britteny M. Caldwell) her older sister. You know how impatient teen -aged girls are, right?

But did it really happen the way they outlined for her and from what we’ve just seen? It’s for your consideration to decide.
Tom Stephenson, Lisel Gorell-Getz and Olivia Hodson
At the time the kingdom was ruled by a series of Lord Protectors until Edward was of age. Ted Seymour was one of them and he exerted tremendous power over the comings and goings of the court.  Thom Seymour, Ted’s brother was in love with Bess, but married Katherine Parr, Elizabeth’s step -mother while professing his love for the impressionable young teen, referred to as “The Virgin Queen”. 

Bess’ affair with Thom Seymour, who was almost twice her age but in no uncertain terms at the ready to do the bidding to deflower the girl, treats her on the one hand with affection and love letters and brutally on the other. She was torn between loyalty, love  and revenge. Never underestimate a woman scorned. 
Torture in the backfound as as Bess, in the foreground,  is with her cuddly Teddy Bear.
As a young teenager, (15) Hennig portrays Bess as skilled woman/child with enough cunning to out smart her devious oft out of control inquisitors. It comes with a high price, and you can determine how high is high.

Unfortunately, the two crossexaminers used the divide and conquer method in their questioning. Shown in sihoullette behind a curtain, Bess’ governess Ashley, (Monique Gaffney) and her so -called accountant, Parry (Wil Bethmann) are called in to tell what they know of the relationship between Bess and Thom.

POW strategy, in oh so graphic terms with the use of pulleys and limb stretching and electric shock. It was all too graphic for these delicate eyes. But the worst of it was the use of waterboarding on both Thom and Parry.  
Olivia Hodson and Wil Bethmann
In this country, you are presumed innocent until you are proven guilty by a panel of your peers. Sounds great. Not so much for young Bess (Olivia Hodson) who is dragged off into some non descript but eerily looking battle inquisition room (think ready for waterboarding) with a long stainless steel table, a few metal chairs, a tea wagon (she is offered water but not tea: Rule # 1: tea is essential!) and black caution tape unceremoniously crisscrossing across the stage with some big unknown looking boxes standing eerily still (Elizabet Piksto) with Chris Rynne’s stark and harsh lighting creating an unwelcome environment and Naeann Ross' sound of pings that had me checking my ears. 

As mystery and intrigue became a challenging night at the theatre some outstanding performances rose to the top and newcomer Olivia Hodson’s Bess and as the teen ager in the house, stood head and shoulders while carrying the show. This is her show, i.e. “The Virgin Queen” and so her followers will remember her as such as she convinces Ted of this fact. “Can a girl really be capable of such foresight?” You bet your sweet bippi she can and she did.
Olivia Hodson and Steven Lone
Coming in second are Veronica Murphy’s costumes worn by Hodson especially after leaving her teen aged look of orange taffeta dress, orange sparkly tennis shoes and ruffled ankle sox and making an entrance  later in the performance in a white power outfit; V neck top wrap around skirt and white heels, yes the sign of power and virginity.

Tom Stephenson’s Ted is like a chameleon, the soft and cuddly uncle (not quite Mr. Rogers) and fetchingly obedient to his niece, (“we should see each other more often.”) and then menacingly turning on a dime to accuse her of every sin and crime in the book. His partner in crime, Lisel Gorell- Getz is his perfect partner as the ass. interrogator in chief.  If stern looks could kill, hers would.

Handsome and muscular Steven Lone straddles both worlds playing the good goody/bad guy oft times in one scene as he charms Bess with his guiles and turns on her while raping her.  Brittney M. Caldwell’s Mary lends a bit of humor as she agrees to help Bess out of some sticky situations.

As Ms. Hennig states in the beginning of her play: "this is a an imagining of history …based on actual people and events, and though portions are deliciously accurate, …it might offend some historically concise, while others are completely and utterly fabricated. “Call it girl power. Call it virgin power. Both then and now, it’s the beating heart of my play."

I’ll buy that, the whole kit and caboodle. 

 See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Oct. 6th
Organization: Cygnet Theatre Company
Phone: 619 -337-1525
Production Type: Drama
Where: 4040 Twiggs Street, Old Town, San Diego, CA 92110
Ticket Prices: Start at 25.00
Web: cygnettheatre.org
Venue: Theatre in Old Town
Photo: Karli Cadel

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