On April 14 in the Cyrus Pavilion Theater, students of the University of Maine’s School of Performing Arts division of Theater and Dance took to the stage for the production of “Six Dead Queens and An Inflatable Henry.” The play is about the wives of King Henry VIII of England taking place in the shared bedroom of the past queens’ afterlife. The way the play was directed made it feel like you were watching a slumber party.
“While it includes many references to the lives of the women and their marriages to Henry, it’s a fictional scenario and one designed to entertain more than educate,” Angela Bonacasa said, the director of the performance.
From the opening scene, audience members know that they’re not in for a typical play.
The play is about each of the Queens competing over who was the “superior queen,” but unbeknownst to them they each shared similar flaws that reveal themselves as the play progresses. They each try their hardest to argue how loyal they were to the king. They realized ultimately that the problem was not them but Henry. The show ends with a powerful statement as they each get a chance to, literally, deflate their husband, giving them the revenge that they all sought. It was an interesting representation of feminism and raised the question: “ladies…is he really worth it?”
“People can expect something very, very different!” Bonacasa said. “The show runs a little over an hour, and hits the ground running. Some moments of the show border on farce, while others are heartfelt and tender. One moment there is singing and dancing, and in the next there is a swordfight. It changes direction constantly and keeps the viewer wondering what to expect next.”
She was not wrong. To the keen listener and the culturally aware, the dialogue sprinkles in suggestive puns and innuendos. The line “quick on the draw” was followed by the cast pulling prop guns.
The play also saw the Queens comment on contemporary British royal life, such as the marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Duchess of Cornwall, as well as Meghan Markle entering the royal family.
Each Queen had a different personality that was portrayed spectacularly by each actor, but all of them were the same loyal, love-sick spoiled woman corrupted by the burden of baring an heir. Delaney McFaden’s portrayal of Anne of Cleaves, a lesser known queen, stole the show with her facial expressions of agony and disgust. Her body language was perfect as she managed to capture the frustration behind the late monarch.
One of the most powerful scenes of the show was the representation of the two queens that got beheaded. The lights went dim and Anne Boylen and Katherine Howard, performed by Emma Ouellette and Katie Brayson, got on the bed and began to narrate the events that lead to their beheading.
“I could not be more proud of the result,” Bonacasa said.
“We began rehearsals in early March, starting with the musical and vocal aspects, and then moving into the script and scene work shortly after,” Bonacasa said. “Conversations about the sets, costumes and other design elements had been in discussions for several months before that, and the actual construction/creation began in mid March as well.”
This practice was prevalent in the performance. The actors were well-rehearsed in their roles. Each queen spoke in a specific European accent quite well. Certain scenes called for a musical interlude where the instruments were performed by the actors. The choreography for the sword fights and little dancing scenes were also quite good.
The set was also beautiful. The minimalist lighting was well done, and it created a perfect ambiance of a royal bedroom to set the mood whenever one of the Queens went off on a tangent. Likewise, the costumes were impeccably done. The dresses fit each actor’s character and helped the audience understand the ladies in them. These details brought the whole show together, making it very entertaining and worth seeing.
“Participation in the School of Performing Arts theater[’s] shows is available to anyone,” Bonacasa said. “There are a number of non-majors who participate in the shows, either as actors through the audition process, or on the tech side running lights, costume crew or any of the many roles that involve putting a production together. Auditions are usually held each semester for all the shows that will be performed. Those interested can check out the School of Performing Arts website or reach out to the theater office.”