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Girl power reigns supreme at the Piccolo Theatre production of “Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry.” It is an adaptation of the Foursight Theatre’s (U.K.) comedy of the six wives of Henry VIII coexisting in the afterlife on a bed fit for a king.
Stranded in an existentialist purgatory, the women fight, bond, fight, joke, fight, discuss their legacies, their relationship with the King and their royal subjects, and fight. Sword fights and wrestling are the norm for these strong-willed women, who read the tabloids in order to chide successive British royal families and become defensive when one of their fellow queens attempts to marginalize the historical importance of the others.
“Who is the true queen?” they ask at the outset of the play, stating their mottos and distinguishing themselves initially through generalizations women have dealt with throughout history.
The Spanish princess Katherine of Aragon (Amy Gorelow) is the disappointment who failed to produce a son for the king. Anne Boleyn (Dani Bryant) was labeled a traitor and adulteress; Jane Seymour (Brianna Sloane) is the boring, submissive one. The king’s perceived favorite, Ann of Cleves (Leeann Zahrt) is the ugly duckling; Kathryn Howard (Nicole Keating) is the slut, and Catherine Parr (Denita Linnertz) is the survivor.
The actresses shine, creating changing fronts of unity, isolation, brief exultation and defiance for their characters, each wishing her legacy had more to do with their individuality and less to do with their relationship to the king.
Snappy tunes, biting insults that dominate the dialogue and continual sparring (overseen by fight choreographer Elizabeth Styles), along with the fearlessness of the six actresses who directed and designed the show make this production a delight.
With lavish costumes, outlandish makeup and a simple yet brilliant set design (a moveable wooden bed frame covered by crimson sheets that becomes a stage upon a stage), the heroines sing decadent songs and even play their own instruments.
Despite the show’s faithfulness to comedy, these women have done a truly remarkable job packing poignancy into purposely brief, shining moments where each character gets to delve deep after uttering the words. By the time an inflatable doll representing Henry arrives the audience is more than ready to see this foul-smelling, repressive monarch deflated.
The play runs through June 5
at the Piccolo Theatre, 600 Main St.
at the Evanston Arts Depot.
For tickets, call 847-424-0089 or visit www.piccolotheatre.com.