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Bloody Henry a grossly funny history lesson
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Bloody Henry a grossly funny history lesson

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Bloody Henry
Lee Center,
Seattle University
Through October 24


History lessons might go down a lot easier if they were all done by Brian Kooser and his puppets. Bloody Henry is the fruit of a year's worth of puppetry design and some frantic work by a costume designer Deborah Skorstad, who miniaturized dozens of detailed, period-correct costumes in just several weeks. The puppets are breathtakingly beautiful, for puppets. (Kooser has done several other major productions with handmade puppets, including Dracula from 2007.)

Kooser created this history lesson about Henry VIII, one of the bloodiest monarchs in British history, and his six wives. Henry VIII was the king who broke with Rome and created the Church of England, and then became England's head churchman. He wasn't satisfied with divorcing his wives; several of them lost their heads in the process. He is now known to have had syphilis, which was partly why many of his babies were stillborn. His Y chromosome was apparently not very vigorous, which resulted in mostly girl babies while he longed for boys, and he killed or divorced the women who couldn't give him boys.

The history is accurate, but it does have a distinct focus on how the babies came along, and Henry's difficult digestive system. Voices for the women - Tina Myers, Lauren Herrick, Colleen Egan, Kenna Kettrick, and Jenell Weidlich - did a lot of moaning in this production. Gavin Cummins was the main voice of the evening, since he starts out the voice of Young Henry until Henry's death.

There are also cutouts, shadow puppets and one humongous Bunraku puppet of the pope, which is stunning. You might have seen it walking along in the Fremont Solstice Parade. There were also video accompaniments for atmospheric location shots, and there were live musicians playing original, period-style musical pieces on the viola de gamba and a Renaissance violin (though how that is different from a modern one is mysterious).

The script of this production at over two hours might be a bit long, since we all pretty much know that he lived and died and had a lot of wives. Still, there are few slow spots and there is some grossly funny dead baby dropping, and peasant throwing, and a few heads rolling. Not to mention King Henry in shadow sitting on a chamber pot&.

But the depiction of this historic jockeying for political power and the treating of women like chattel and the ability of this monarch to do whatever he wanted while growing ever more huge and smelly and disgusting makes us remember that we don't really want a system of government that monarchy represents, and that maybe this system we came up with, as messy and tempestuous as it is, is not nearly as bad as a government can be.

For more information, go to www.briankooser.com or call Lee Center for the Arts at 206-296-2244.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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