Danielle Nigro stars as in title role of "Anne Boleyn" with Andrew Bryce and Rob Tendy, right.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Theatre Department show brings new life to Anne BoleynTweet
It did not take long for Brenden Gregory and his fellow cast members to become hooked on the play “Anne Boleyn.”
“A bunch of us got together one night and read the script as different characters,” he said. “We loved it. We were laughing hysterically and gasping for breath.
“In the beginning, there was a sense of ‘we have no idea about this play.’ Some of us had never even heard of Anne Boleyn. But when we were done reading, we said: ‘We need to get in on this production!’ It is well-written, a lot of fun and there are great things going on that we wanted the experience to play with.”
Gregory and the rest of the cast will take the Watters Theater stage to perform Howard Brenton’s play at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 25-26 and May 2-3 and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 4. Tickets are $14, general admission; $12, faculty, staff and seniors; and $8, students ($5 for students on opening night if purchased at the Anderson Center Box Office before 5 p.m. April 25).
The Binghamton University show will be only the second U.S. performance of “Anne Boleyn.” The play about the second wife of King Henry VIII was commissioned by Shakespeare’s Globe and premiered at The Globe in August 2010. It made its U.S. debut at The Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre in Providence, R.I., in February 2013.
For director Anne Brady, “Anne Boleyn” deserves a U.S. audience because it is a new play that successfully combines comedy with drama and historical characters with contemporary language.
“It’s filled with humor, covers two time periods and gives us the opportunity to see Anne Boleyn in a new light,” said Brady, a professor of theatre at Binghamton University. “I love the fact that it mixes the Tudor time period (the court of Henry VIII) and the court of James I.”
This re-telling of Anne Boleyn’s life is anything but old-fashioned; envision the effect of flamboyant James I twirling in Anne Boleyn’s coronation gown as he considers a new version of the Bible. The story of Anne Boleyn provides a sharp spotlight to the very things that people give their life for in 1527 to now: love, religion and politics.
“It’s a romp – a celebration of fun,” Brady said. “There is a sense of mysteriousness, joy and political intrigue. There are all sorts of twists.”
Navigating the twists and turns of Anne Boleyn is freshman Danielle Nigro from Holtsville, N.Y. She described Anne Boleyn as “a strong, passionate woman who persevered in the worst of times.”
“Anne Boleyn—the person, not the show—was a woman who wasn’t afraid to love,” Nigro said. “She was a devout Protestant, and loved her religious beliefs so dearly that she was willing to risk, and subsequently give, her life for her God. She also, I believe, was genuinely, deeply in love with Henry, and moved mountains and took dangerous risks to have her love.”
More than 75 years of Tudor history gave the cast members an opportunity to research the era and their characters. Before the winter break, Brady sent an e-mail to the group about possible research topics.
“I said: ‘Make it fun. What would be useful for your character to know?’” she said. “Most of them took advantage of that.”
The research continued into rehearsals, as cast members shared facts, books and videos about the time periods.
“Since the periods intersect, there was a lot of information to go through just to find different pieces of inspiration ,” said Tom Planamento, a sophomore from White Plains who plays George Villas. “Once we started, many of us did not want to stop.”
“This was the first time I’ve ever had to portray an actual historical figure,” Nigro said. “There was an immense amount of research that had to go into portraying Anne accurately, bringing her to life with a strong historical foundation. This is also, no doubt, the biggest undertaking acting-wise that I’ve ever experienced. There are so many relationships and events and memories that I had to make truly personal for myself in order for the scenes to be truthful on the stage for the audience.”
The cast members said they have also enjoyed working in costumes from the periods. Brady stressed the importance of having costumes that are not only reflective of the era, but are flexible enough to have the cast members engage in a range of motions including dancing, tumbling and forms of violence.
“The outfits should have a sense of boldness, sexuality and courageousness to them,” Brady said.
There is “something exciting” about wearing the costumes, Planamento said.
“When I’m wearing (the outfit), it feels like a transformation of power,” he said. “I can see myself talking to a king and having a king fall in love with me. I can feel myself having a changed persona just by putting on this costume.”
Eric Berger, a freshman from Queens who plays Cardinal Wolsey, agreed.
“When I wear the Cardinal Wolsey costume, I actually feel a bit Catholic – and I’m Jewish!” he said.
Working on “Anne Boleyn” with Brady has been a rewarding experience, the cast members said.
“One of the biggest things that Anne and this production has done is push us to not settle for anything less that what we are most capable of,” said Gregory, a junior from Walton, N.Y., who plays Lord Robert Cecil. “She pushes us to keep digging deeper and look at how we can affect each other and care about each other more.”
“I have learned more during the run of this show than I could ever begin to explain,” Nigro said. “The special thing about working with Anne is that she takes in each person’s individual experience and their particular level of training and individualizes how to really help each of us. She has helped me to discover so many things about myself as an actress that I will keep with me for the rest of my career, and she has helped me to achieve things I never thought imaginable.”