By John Thomas
The classic tale of a man standing up for his beliefs is now being retold by the Parkside Players at Grace Lutheran Church, Forest Hills in its production of “A Man For All Seasons” by Robert Bolt.
Based on the life of British statesman and author Sir Thomas More, the story takes place in 16th century England. It follows his brilliant political rise to his eventual ruin, brought on by his refusal to condone the divorce of King Henry VIII.
One of the production’s strong suits is its cast. W. Gordon Innes brings a solemn gravity to his portrayal of Thomas More, a deeply religious family man who must ultimately choose between his beliefs and his king. Innes is superb and totally believable in the role.
More is surrounded by schemers and power-seekers. Thomas Cromwell, played by Richard Weyhausen, is his constant nemesis as he digs into More’s past in search of evidence of treason. Weyhausen’s portrayal is well studied and played, a treat for the audience.
More’s enemies truly outnumber his friends. Cardinal Wolsey (Jay Longan), who first warns the protagonist of his dangerous leanings, the Duke of Norfolk (Mark Davis), a friend who turns against More, and Richard Rich (John Emro), the man who finally fingers him in a frame-up, are all worth disliking.
Beneath the political wrangling lies the frustrated love of Lady Margaret (Maria Elftheriou), More’s daughter, and William Roper (Alain Forest), a young man who, despite his pure devotion to principle, shifts from cause to cause. More opposes their union in the beginning.
Another of the production’s pleasant surprises comes from Liz Shawkat, who plays Lady Alice, More’s wife. Shawkat does well to recreate the devoted but highly opinionated wife that might be married to such a quiet and studied man.
Through the tale’s graver themes, Bolt manages to imbue his work with comic relief, often when it is most needed. The Common Man (Walt Higgins), the only character who ever addresses the audience directly, assumes various roles in the course of the play. At first he is servant, then boatman, then jailer. His wry remarks not only add humor, but illustrate the cynical complacency of the common folk of More’s day.
The Common Man is often a one-man crew, moving furniture around the simple set during scene changes. He never leaves the stage, sitting either stage left or right when not involved in the action.
Costumes are also simple, conveying the religious austerity of the time. Only Cardinal Wolsey and King Henry VIII — played by Rodney Hakim, another highlight — are in finery, in accordance with their offices. Here the costume department really shines.
Director Jim Azelvandre has coached an able cast through two acts of scheming, treachery, and moral instruction. The result is a winner, an evening or afternoon well spent.
Remaining performances of “A Man For All Seasons” are Fridays, Nov. 23 and 30, Saturdays, Nov. 24 and Dec. 1 at 8 p.m., and Sundays, Nov. 18 and 25 at 3 p.m., at Grace Lutheran Church, 103-15 Union Turnpike, Forest Hills. For tickets call 718-497-4922.