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In times of great political and social turmoil, it is comforting to return to history. Though mired in their specific contemporary eccentricities, the times we are in are not unique; we have survived disease, global warfare, and contested social norms before. There is solace in remembering that survival, as in Lantern Theater Company’s riveting A Man for All Seasons, which demonstrates the resonance between the English Reformation and our own times.
Robert Bolt’s script frames the tension between statesmen Thomas More (a devout Catholic) and Thomas Cromwell (a supporter of the Church of England) as a dialectic between moral rigidity and political opportunity. In the backdrop of Henry VIII’s divorce from his first wife and the disunion between the British crown and the Catholic church, we see a case study for how much some people will give up for their beliefs. In Bolt’s telling, More is a singular man of conscience, unwavering in his own sense of truth and unwilling to bend to authoritarian power, even as his (in)actions destroy his and his family’s lives.
Frank X gives a magnificent performance as More. Wry, philosophical, weary yet optimistic, X’s More is easily worth the price of admission. I could not take my eyes off his performance in a highly demanding role that requires a light touch with comedy but a commanding force with moral soliloquies.
Anthony Lawton’s Cromwell is less grounded, but a lot of fun. Lawton serves full villain, just shy of mustache twirling, as the politically ambitious and unscrupulous rival. The rather arch camp of his performance was bolstered (or hindered, depending on your reaction) by Christopher Colucci’s ominous original music and sound design. Despite the different interpretations of their roles, the theatrical sparring of X and Lawton feels like a clash of the titans, creating atomic combustion out of arcane legal disputes.
One of Bolt’s cheekier interventions is the inclusion of the Common Man, a narrator of sorts who begins to represent the anonymous peasant class. Scott Greer upsells the comedy, but also manages to stick the landing in his impactful second-act monologues. In these, he reminds us of the perils of authoritarianism and asks us to see ourselves in the story.
The rest of the cast is wonderful as well. Mary Elizabeth Scallen is regal and sturdy as More’s wife, Lady Alice. Gregory Isaac and Jake Blouch each play triple duty to great dramatic and comedic effect. Benjamin Brown is commanding as More’s one-time friend, the Duke of Norfolk. Morgan Charéce Hall’s Lady Margaret More is at once whip-smart and vulnerable. Paul Harrold is appropriately desperate and regretful as Richard Rich.
Peter DeLaurier directs the entire ensemble with an assured hand that never lets the almost-three-hour play drag. The set by James F. Pyne Jr., costumes by Kelly Myers, and Lily Fossner’s lights create a majestic and serious aesthetic inside the Plays & Players proscenium theater.
What, When, Where
A Man for All Seasons. By Robert Bolt, directed by Peter DeLaurier. $25-$41. Through April 10, 2022 at Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Place, Philadelphia. (215) 829-0395 or lanterntheater.org.
All audience members are required to present proof of full Covid-19 vaccination and photo ID for entry into all Lantern venues this season. Masks required in the building. Seating is not distanced.
The seating area at Plays & Players Theatre is accessible to patrons using a wheelchair, but the venue restrooms are not.
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