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How to Get Ahead in Monarchy

Melanie Moser and Shawn Bookey in VLT’s Anne of the Thousand Days
Melanie Moser and Shawn Bookey in VLT’s Anne of the Thousand Days

VLT casts Anne of the Thousand Days as a post-apocalyptic feminist tale of Tudor intrigue

William Faulkner once suggested in an interview that the essential ingredients of any good drama are family, money and murder. This might help explain our ongoing obsession with the House of Tudor, those ingrown English monarchs whose rule included ample instances of greed, intrigue, betrayal and bloody battles for the rights of primogeniture.

Very Little Theatre in its current production not only taps our appetite for all things Tudor but ups the ante by reinterpreting Anne of the Thousand Days as a post-apocalyptic fable, adding a dash of Mad Max to this story about how Anne Boleyn lost her head.

Based on the 1948 play by Maxwell Anderson, the play transports the rule of Henry VIII (Shawn Bookey) to the distant future, where courtiers to the king look like renegades from Burning Man and a tatted-up Thomas Cromwell (Blake Beardsley) could stand in for The Road Warrior’s Lord Humungus. It’s a nice conceit, and director Jay Hash does of fine job of splicing Armageddon into the gilded treachery of the Renaissance.

The play opens with video footage of an imprisoned Anne Boleyn (the excellent Melanie Moser) awaiting execution. From here, the play darts back to the beginning of the story: how the piggish, arrogant, oversexed Henry tries to take Anne as a mistress; how the furiously defiant Anne, all piss and vinegar, resist his advances, finally demanding to be made Queen of England before she submits; and how Henry risks papal displeasure to divorce his wife, the never-present Catherine of Aragon.

A slew of minor characters with ulterior motives works to complicate this tale full of religious hypocrisy, double- and triple-crosses and, not insignificantly, the wily maneuvering of Anne herself, who manipulates the king and his court to her advantage until at last everything blows up in her face. Her execution, which she views as an expiation of her sins, arrives at once as a shock and a fait accompli, a brutal outcome writ by the forces of fate. 

Moser plays Anne as something of a feminist anti-hero, a woman who — faced with the seemingly indomitable force of patriarchy — plays the game until at last the game plays her. Impressively, VLT’s production eshews any easy assessment of Anne’s actions, casting her not as an icon but as a complex character who, in the end, may or may not get seduced by the temptations of absolute power. — Rick Levin 

Anne of the Thousand Days plays through Aug. 15 at the Very Little Theatre; $12-$17, thevlt.com.