Los Angeles Theater Review: ENRIQUE VIII (Rakatá at the Broad Stage)

by Tony Frankel on September 29, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

MY KINGDOM FOR A TRANSLATION

In the “What Were They Thinking?” Department, the Broad Stage has brought in a magnificently acted, thrillingly staged and cleverly edited version of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, but it was booked on one of the notoriously busiest theater weekends of “Enrique VIII” - Rakatá and Fundación Siglo de Orothe year (which includes the international RADAR L.A. theater festival). However, the most head-scratching element is that this rarely performed work is in Spanish WITH NO SUBTITLES, which makes it perfect for the huge Spanish-speaking Latino population in L.A., but instead of presenting it at, say, Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown, it was brought to a fairly pricey theater on the Westside (top tickets were $65). As such, the sparsely attended Saturday matinee consisted of a mostly Westside audience whose looks, depending on whether they could understand–or needed to understand–the dialogue, were alternatively joyful and confused.

Allow me to clarify: There are supertitles in English over the action, but they only give a hint as to the action before us, such as (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Catherine protests Cardinal Wolsey’s tax system.” Certainly, one must acknowledge “Enrique VIII” - Rakatá and Fundación Siglo de Orothe Madrid theater company Rakatá for splicing this Shakespeare history (and his last play) such that it is seen from a Spanish point of view: The pomp surrounding Elizabeth’s arrival is lessened, scenes are ingeniously intertwined and condensed for clarity, and sympathy now goes to Catherine (who was from Madrid and was dumped for failing to provide Henry with a male heir to the throne). Still, as the all-Japanese production of Shun-Kin proved at UCLA this weekend, fast-moving subtitles, even when they are not always necessary to understand the action on stage, make a production far more accessible.

Elizabeth, daughter of Henry and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, reigned until 1603, and even though James VI was King of England when the play was written circa 1613, the work seems more like a farewell to Elizabethan England than a well-constructed drama; it is passive, observant, sympathetic and contains an air of “Enrique VIII” - Rakatá and Fundación Siglo de Ororesignation (it’s also fascinating to note that the Old Globe burned to the ground when a cannon shot was used during a performance of Henry VIII).

The prime trouble is that the character of Henry is hardly worthy of the title-role: Shakespeare and Jacobean playwright John Fletcher, who is widely held as the co-author, played it safe and clearly withdrew the truth about the man who killed Elizabeth’s mother and cousin. Instead, they center on the machinations of Cardinal Wolsey, the second juiciest part after Catherine. As such, Henry merely reacts to his situation. He either condemns Wolsey—for failing to get Rome’s approval of his divorce from Catherine of Aragon (and for amassing too much wealth in his stately Hampton Palace)—or defends Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, the real founder of the Church of England who narrowly escapes the same fall as his nemesis Wolsey.

“Enrique VIII” - Rakatá and Fundación Siglo de OroEvery player in this 14-member ensemble offers some of the finest acting one could find on a Los Angeles stage. Every gesture and glance is well-motivated, and each character is distinctive. It’s difficult to dislike Henry, as Fernando Gil is an all eye-candy matinee idol, hardly representing the fat and greasy Henry of later years.

A recent production at Chicago Shakes opted for patriotic pageantry, inadvertently highlighting the play’s weaknesses, but Rakatá’s adaptation by Jose Padilla, Rafael Diez-Labin and director Ernesto Arias creates a flowing narrative which clarifies the huge cast of characters splendidly. If only I knew what in the hell they were saying.

photos of los Teatros del Canal production

“Enrique VIII” - Rakatá and Fundación Siglo de Oro

Henry VIII / Enrique VIII
Rakatá and Fundación Siglo de Oro
Broad Stage in Santa Monica
scheduled to end on September 29, 2013
for tickets, call 310.434.3470 or visit http://thebroadstage.com/

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