The Bible, as anyone knows who’s ever opened it, is fairly bursting with sex. From Old Testament stories of kings and concubines, to New Testament tales of reformed prostitutes and virgin mothers, sex is pretty much everywhere. But who knew how big a role sex played in the creation of the longest lasting and best-loved English translation of the Bible to ever be published?
Anne Boleyn knew, evidently.
Little is known about the infamously short-lived second wife of King Henry VIII, largely because her husband all but erased her name and memory—after first removing her head, or course. In Howard Brenton’s perceptive and audacious comedy-drama Anne Boleyn, running through May 7 at Marin Theatre Company, the author indulges his own meticulously researched suspicions about the collision of sex, politics and religion.
Directed with astonishing confidence and creativity by Jasson Minadakis, Brenton’s play fills in the missing history with gutsy glee, as Anne Boleyn returns from the dead, bloody but unbowed, to tell her side of the story. Bouncing between the 16th-century court of King Henry VIII (a brilliant Craig Marker) and that of the 17th-century King James I (also Marker), Brenton suggests that the world might not have the King James Bible had not a deeply religious Boleyn (Liz Sklar, magnificent) employed her sexual charms to force a break between her king and the pope.
Thus did one of history’s most notorious home-wreckers purposefully pave the way for the Protestant reformation—of which she was a kind of freelance secret agent—to gain a foothold in a staunchly Catholic England. Years later, having discovered Boleyn’s forbidden Protestant Bible, the recently crowned King James hits on a way to unify his fractured kingdom—by commissioning a new translation of the word of God, a Bible that will ultimately bear his name.
Aided by a jaw-dropping set by Nina Ball and era-blurring fashions from Ashley Holvick, the energetic cast swap costumes and characters almost as frequently as Henry swapped wives.
Anne Boleyn, while overlong and crammed with arcane historical detail, is often great fun, starting with the opening scene, in which Boleyn appears, clutching a bloody bag, teasing the audience with the cheeky question, “You want to see it?” What happens next is a bit of a surprise, the first of many in Brenton’s clever, intelligent tale of blood, sex and faith.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★