The lady twas a tramp…


Six Husbands of Elizabeth the Queen


Written by Robert Gulack

Directed by Cynthia Granville

Technical Director: Chris Johnson

Co-composers: Larry Hochman and Laurie Hochman

Presented by The Supporting Characters and ETC (a division of Love Creek Productions)

Parker Theatre at the Algonquin Theatre, 123 East 24th Street

An Equity Approved Showcase (through July 3, 2008)

Review by Judd Hollander


It's always interesting to see a playwright challenge himself as Robert Gulack does with Six Husbands of Elizabeth the Queen, a story about six strong male influences in the life of England's Queen Elizabeth I (Katherine Barron). Gulack has a strong appreciation for the beauty of language as illustrated by his penning the work in 14 line stanzas, giving the piece the feel of a Shakespearean sonnet whereby words flow trippingly off the tongues of the actors - many of whom play multiple roles. He also places the story in an alternate universe, allowing for a seamless blend of fact, conjecture and possibility. (In our plane of existence Elizabeth never married, though many of the figures mentioned in Gulack's text had real-life counterparts). The work is told in a story-within-a-story framework and spans the years 1553-1603 in various locations around this alternate-universe England. While the tale is missing an important dimension in the telling it is still quite an involving experience.


The play follows Elizabeth from the death of her brother, King Edward, to her own death some 50 years later. Living a life constantly surrounded by intrigue, she learns early on the value and responsibility of power. Even when she is imprisoned for being suspected of trying to usurp the rule of her half-sister Queen Mary (played in this performance by director Granville), Elizabeth keeps her wits about her. Later, when she becomes queen upon Mary's death, Elizabeth has her legal counsel draft a document that will allow her to retain all royal power if and when she should marry, with her husband never given the title of "King" (though he would get a title of some sort – as Queen Elizabeth II's husband does in present day).  No matter what the status of her relationships, it is Elizabeth who is in charge and it will be thus until the time she takes her last breath.


Despite the power Elizabeth wields, she is less lucky in affairs of the heart. Her first love Robert Dudley (Tarek Khan), with whom she shares bonds of childhood friendship and recent adversity (they were imprisoned together for a time) is deemed impossible as he is already married, his wife later dying under suspicious circumstances. Next there is a marriage to soul mate Christopher Hatton (Jeremy Waters) who she eventually divorces for the more intelligent and exciting Walter Raleigh (Andrew Hurley) - a union which quickly proves to be a mistake. Husband number three, Philip Sidney (Berry Newkirk), is a much younger man whom she chooses simply because she can, despite the fact he is in love with another. (He is later killed on the battlefield when he defies Elizabeth's order not to join his troops.)  Finally there is Essex (also played by Khan) whom her younger self might not find suitable, but she chooses him anyway, having reached a point in life where she is determined to be happy (or at least satisfied with a boy toy) in her private life.


These relationships provide an interesting mirror with which to observe the changing priorities of Elizabeth who, while she values the crown above all else, as time goes by, is willing to make scarifies and concessions for her own needs.  Indeed, one wonders if the older Elizabeth, looking back at her life, would have married Dudley had she the chance, scandal or not. As for her final love (actually a deep abiding friendship), it serves to bookend the play and nicely answer any questions one might have about the blending of fact and fiction.


Barron is excellent as the title character, jockeying the responsibilities of the throne while trying to have a happy and fulfilling personal life. As she says at one point, "It is no easy thing to wear a crown, [a]nd weigh the nation's needs 'fore ev'ry choice." Most importantly, Barron has a strong and commanding presence and one never doubts that she is the one in control. (Though Elizabeth does, like most people, let her emotions and personal needs get in the way of her responsibilities from time to time). Barron is also aided by an excellent supporting cast. These include Waters, who is believable both in his various roles and with his use of accents; Hurley as the too-sure-of-himself Raleigh and the deliberately over-the-top Falstaff; and Khan as the determined Dudley and the smolderingly virile Essex. But the saving grace of the play is the framing narration by the marvelous Bruce Barton,  who keeps us current with the background and historical events swirling around the onstage characters and transports us back in time with his spot-on enunciation and brilliant delivery of Gulack’s storytelling sonnets. A sort of stand in for the playwright, Barton puts forth the lines as if he was in the midst of a Shakespearean work - and in a way he is.


The only place the play falls down is with Cynthia Granville's direction. All of these characters, albeit wonderfully written and acted, come across as objects in a dusty history play instead of flesh and blood figures that feel alive on stage. While the performances are fascinating to watch, one doesn't feel a real connection with any of the people depicted. Nor do we get a chance to delve into their psyches as deeply as we should. As a result, the potential impact of the story is seriously decreased.


The set (uncredited in the program, though one assumes it's the work of technical direction Chris Johnson), little more than a throne and a few props, works well enough, but this is a tale crying out for a full production, which probably would have worked much better in achieving the required atmosphere. The same is true for the costumes (also uncredited). Lighting by Steven Barrett is okay.


Six Husbands of Elizabeth the Queen is a very interesting play with a lot of potential, and with stronger direction and bigger production values, could be something really special.


Also in the cast are Francis Callahan and Molly Callahan.


Box Score:


Writing: 2

Directing: 1

Acting: 2

Sets: 1

Costumes: 1

Lighting/Sound: 1


Copyright 2008 by Judd Hollander


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