BWW Review: THE LAST WIFE at Centaur Theatre
I made the mistake of seeing this play on Valentine's Day (it just worked out that way) and perhaps that influenced my expectations away from the actual promise of what this production was going to deliver.
With Kate Hennig's The Last Wife, I hoped to find a feisty, charming depiction of Catherine Parr, the last wife of King Henry VIII. And I did. But I also found an unsettling depiction of domestic violence and some of the most cringe-worthy "love scenes" I've ever encountered.
The rapidfire intelligent dialogue of the play, which sees Catherine marry, grow to care for and eventually lose her husband, is completely overshadowed by the physical misalignments that plague the show.
There's a real problem with director Eda Holmes' fight choreography, escalating to a critical moment where it becomes practically cartoonish.
The play is clearly intended to be a political tour de force, but the arc of the show works against this feminist narrative, showing Catherine as a strong independent woman who gets beaten down (physically and emotionally) over the course of the two hours and 25 minutes.
Her historically accurate death, due to complications from childbirth at the age of 36, just completes the tragedy, as she moves from a position of power to one of subjugation.
While the play is unapologetically anachronistic, encompassing references to modern women's rights issues, phrases and tools, the scenic design makes it clear that the action is supposed to take place outside of the specific historical time and place from which the plot is borrowed.
I think perhaps most baffling to me in this effort to remove the play from the 16th Century was the bizarre choices around costume design. In one moment, Catherine is wearing the most divine bespoke red brocade gown. In another, a business-casual black-and-white pantsuit straight off the rack. Aesthetically, the production lacked coherence and the sound design proved no better, employing abrupt, synth-heavy vocal tracks to try and ease the transition between episodic moments.
Overall, the actors did an admirable job with the text, but it's so difficult to look past the flaws in direction and writing. Catherine's feminist narrative arc ends in her death-by-domesticity after she's been terrorized and nearly murdered by her violent husband.
Frankly, it doesn't sit well in 2019 to watch a strong female character nearly choked to death by her abusive partner, and then cut to her crying over his deathbed, playing the role of doting wife.
Ultimately this is a play that tries to hit the audience over the head with its political agenda, but ends up failing to follow through on its values because it's bound by a historical context. It comes out of the gate waving its feminist flag proudly, but limps to the finish line, defeated and rather depressing.
Previews for the show began Feb. 12. Opening night was Feb. 15 and it runs until March 3.