It’s easy to see what drew Robert Bolt to dramatize the life and death of Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons. More was a rare individual, whether in the 16th century or today – a man willing to put his neck and principles on the line, figuratively and, finally, all too literally.
At the Acorn Theatre through March 3, the new production of the 1962 Tony winner for Best Play offers a modestly engaging evening of theater. Its story of uncompromising honor and conscience proves evergreen, but emotionally barren patches sap momentum. Chalk that up in part to the play itself, and partly to this efficient – no more, no less – presentation by the Fellowship for Performing Arts, specialists in stories from a Christian worldview.
Bolt’s drama spans 1526 to 1535. More, the English chancellor and humanist, finds himself in an ever-deepening situation when he refuses to support or comment on the divorce of King Henry VIII and the monarch’s eventual split from Rome. More believed his silence was golden and would protect him. But conspirators tarnished his reputation and trapped him with lies that led to charges of treason and his execution.
Director Christa Scott-Reed’s staging is straight-up and free of frills. A few chairs, a curtain and a wall with a barred window are enough to evoke a home, harbor, prison and beyond. Shadowy lighting enhances each scene.
Michael Countryman ably anchors the show as More, a role played to Tony- and Oscar-winning results by Paul Scofield. Countryman’s portrayal is marked by quiet geniality and a straight back fitting More’s unfailing integrity.
Trent Dawson appears briefly as King Henry, who is dressed in head-to-toe beige. His motives and demands, which permeate the show, run to a darker tone. Todd Cerveris tackles the meaty role of the king’s scheming chief minister and More’s conniving archrival, Thomas Cromwell. He’s long on oily but short on menace in the part.
David McElwee ably breathes life into morally elastic Richard Rich, while John Ahlin lays it on a bit thick as Cardinal Wolsey and Signor Chapuys. Harry Bouvy adds a jolts of energy as the Common Man, whose comments to the audience are built to bridge past and present.
Just like in the Frank Langella revival on Broadway in 2008, this production finds its emotional high point late in the two-and-a-half-hour run. That’s when the imprisoned More has a final visit from his wife, Alice, richly played by Carolyn McCormick, and daughter, Margaret, portrayed by Kim Wong. Seeing the sparks set off here only makes you wish for more of the same.
When all is said and done, A Man for All Seasons makes its point, but does so without making a deep impact.