Sir Thomas More faced a major crisis of conscience and found his life at stake.
King Henry VIII wanted a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and the church wouldn't grant him one. Most other English noblemen had already conceded to the Act of Supremacy, declaring the king's authority over that of the Pope. The king wanted the endorsement of More, a well-respected scholar and devout Roman Catholic. More's beliefs wouldn't allow him to sanction the act, even when his life was threatened under charges of treason.
More's dilemma was dramatized by Robert Bolt in "A Man for All Seasons," which can be seen currently in a fine production by the Santa Paula Theater Center under the direction of Gerald Castillo.
Seldom in modern times has English history been portrayed more vividly than it is in Bolt's play, which in many ways resembles a modern courtroom drama. Opening in London in 1960, the play was subsequently adapted by its author into his first Academy Award-winning screenplay. (He also won a year later for "Doctor Zhivago," having missed with his earlier "Lawrence of Arabia.")
Bolt's language is clear, elegant and timeless, making the play and its issues particularly easy to understand; those who listen carefully will find some of the courtroom material particularly prescient of current-day political and legal issues.
Castillo--whose local work includes Arthur Miller's "The Price" in Santa Paula and the Plaza Players' recent "Hot L Baltimore"--has assembled a cast of local all-stars, some of the dependably best and best-known actors around.
Heading the list as More is David Ralphe, the center's artistic director and co-star of "The Price." His chief antagonist, the cunning Sir Thomas Cromwell, is played by Ron Rezac, with Jeff G. Rack (most recently of the the center's "Calamity Jane") as the sniveling Richard Rich, and Braden McKinley as the sympathetic Duke of Norfolk.
Joining them are several other fine performers, less well-known on the local scene: Linda Livingston (another alumna of "The Price") plays More's wife, and Stephanie Lowe his daughter; Larry C. Wright is the daughter's fiance, and Arne Markussen is the Spanish ambassador.
The Spanish court was especially interested in this case for two reasons: Catherine herself was Spanish, and of course the country was strongly Catholic.
John A. Maraffi makes a strong impression as young Henry VIII, and Richard Welch Monnie, Jared Willis, Donna Allen-Terrell and John A. Masterson appear in smaller, though significant, roles.
Holding everything together is Frederic R. Helsel as the Common Man, who portrays several minor characters and serves as the play's narrator.
The backstage technical work is particularly strong in this show and includes the aforementioned Rack's elegant, minimalist set design, Sabrina Jean Garcia's costumes and Dana Kilgore's dramatic lighting.
* WHAT: "A Man for All Seasons."
* WHEN: Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8 and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., through Dec. 4.
* WHERE: Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 S. 7th St., Santa Paula.
* COST: Thursday and Friday evenings and Sunday afternoon: $10 general admission, $7.50 students and seniors. Saturday evening, $12.50 general admission, $10 for students and seniors.
* FYI: For reservations or further information, call 525-4645.