Through October 13
MOTHER’S DAUGHTER Studio Theatre/Stratford Festival
After playing any number of major roles as a performer, Kate Hennig apparently took to heart that frequent jibe to actresses: If you don’t think there are enough good roles for women, go write your own.
Men with that attitude need to be more careful, Hennig took it to heart.
She’s written three so far, including “Mother’s Daughter,” now on stage in Stratford’s compact Studio Theatre.
Like the others in the Queenmaker trilogy, this is a look at women and power, based on the Tudor queens.
Here, it’s Queen Mary (Shannon Taylor), the daughter of Henry VIII who has come down through history as “Bloody Mary” because she tried to restore the Catholic Church in Britain, after her father split from Rome and her brother Edward continued that path.
Daughter of Henry’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon (Irene Poole), Mary stayed Catholic and tried to restore “The Old Religion.”
The problem for the time and for history is that restoration in those times was not an intellectual exercise, instead a battle of clerics and executioners.
There was also propaganda, with Mary going down to generations of Protestants as vile and murderous in “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.”
Of course, it’s all true, on both sides.
After all, it was a society where Shakespeare’s church attendance was monitored, as Tudor secret police monitored everyone’s church attendance.
In those times, being Protestant when Mary was queen and Catholic when Elizabeth took over was legally regarded as treason and hundreds in both cases paid the ultimate price.
What Hennig does here is look at the religious situation, the succession struggles of the Tudors and Mary Tudor’s quest for marriage and an heir.
Royal succession in the times when kings and emperors ruled, not just reigned, was a colossally important issue.
That’s why there were succession wars, executions of collateral family bloodlines and opposition to woman rulers since they obviously couldn’t lead an army.
Women were supposed to stay home and get pregnant by someone.
Henry VIII, father of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I and King Edward, was a prime example, since he murdered potential challengers to the throne, killed wives who didn’t give him a male heir and left a succession mess behind him.
That’s where Mary comes in, because Edward died young and she was put on the throne, as Elizabeth (Jessica B. Hill) waited in the (Protestant) wings, Lady Jane Grey (Andrea Rankin) waited in the tower after nine days on the throne and Mary, Queen of Scots lurked in confinement as an equally legitimate claimant to the throne.
Hennig’s Mary is a woman surrounded by women aides and a ghostly mother offering advice as mothers do.
She has to deal with Lady Jane and a probable execution and a marriage, probably to Philip of Spain, the Philip II of Elizabeth’s Armada time.
As a woman raised by a murderous father, a divorced mother of an abandoned religion, restless nobles, bad advisors and an unstable country, she had no training to rule.
That’s very clear in Hennig’s “Mother’s Daughter.”
The playwright has created fictional history as she believes it should be, women who deal with insoluble problems as women advise her.
The major problem isn’t the fiction in the story since playwrights and writers can create any world they want to.
If you don’t believe that, look at some of the fictional universes of science fiction.
The problem is Hennig using modern and often anachronistic language in Tudor times.
Compare it to Shakespeare’s language in productions set in modern times.
That’s why one “Romeo and Juliet” movie used guns carrying the brand name Sword to cover some of that language conflict.
It’s hard to produce a show on one of Stratford’s stages without some of Shakespeare’s language wafting across other stages.
Hennig has a major asset in this production, most people in the audience probably know a lot less about Tudor times history than does the playwright.
The best way to handle “Mother’s Daughter” is to sit back and let it flow upward on the steeply banked seats and see where it goes.
We see history from a different perspective.
Director Alan Dilworth has a minimalist set for the show and interesting performances from Poole and Taylor.
While this clearly qualifies as historical fiction, that doesn’t mean it’s untrue, just different.
That’s why “Mother’s Daughter” is worth seeing, history from a point of view mostly ignored by history.
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