Witty word play. That’s what I expected from accomplished playwright and actor Pierre Brault, and that’s what I got in his second play about Will Somers. Somers was the Court Fool to Henry VIII and to Henry’s three children—Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Brault’s first one-man play about Somers—Will Somers: Keeping Your Head!—described Somers’s fraught relationship with the mercurial monomaniacal Henry, and Somers’s warm relationships with each of the king’s offspring. Will Somers the Second: Last Will and Testament moves forward in time, beginning with Henry’s over-the-top state funeral.
Actually, the play begins with a truly frightening scene in which Brault and his director, AL Connors, conjure up the grisly horror that attended the Tudors’ reigns. You may know that hundreds of Protestants were burned at the stake by Mary Tudor (“Bloody Mary”), but did you know that, under the influence of zealous Protestant reformers, numerous Catholics were killed during the reign of her little brother, Edward VI? Did you know that Henry executed thousands of Catholics who resisted his break from Roman Catholicism? Tudor England was a dangerous place where a comical fellow could be beheaded for a joke gone wrong, especially if it was about religion.
Adrift after his liege and master has died, Will is “figuring out which way the tapestry is hanging” when the slimy Duke of Somerset, the Lord Protector to Edward, summons Will to the court to cheer up the frightened 9-year old boy who is now His Imperial Majesty, Edward VI. (Brault masterfully plays all 12 cast members, male and female, nobility and commoners.) Will explains to Edward that he had not come to see him until now because “Your Council decided you were surrounded by enough fools.” Edward gratefully welcomes his old playmate, and for a time it seems Will will be safe from courtly intrigues, despite his sharp wit.
But as Will says, “The death of a sovereign can make all mens’ dull knives sharp.” The Duke of Somerset, his brother Thomas Seymour, then John Dudley and Archbishop Cranmer all manipulate King Edward to their own selfish ends. Dudley attempts to have his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Seymour, succeed Edward, but this fails. Mary becomes Queen and more heads roll, but not Will’s.
I found Will’s relationship with Mary the most interesting. They both respect each other’s intelligence, but Mary’s ironclad Catholicism versus Will’s flippant wit prevent a true friendship. And Mary’s (and the Court’s) lack of empathy is starkly displayed in the cruel treatment of her female jester, Jane Foole (an actual historical character).
Will’s relationship with Elizabeth is the closest to a friendship. They love sharing puns and doggerel. Will assures Elizabeth that her rapier-like intelligence will save her from the executioner… and it does. After Mary’s death, Elizabeth is crowned Queen. She then writes to Will, “You have a way of showing us the truth/Though your manner is uncouth.” He becomes her Court Fool.
Will Somers the Second: Last Will and Testament is a fine pocket history of the last three Tudor monarchs. Pierre Brault has captured the Tudors, warts, frailty and all.
Will Somers the Second: Last Will and Testament is playing at The Gladstone Theatre (910 Gladstone Ave) until January 25, 2020. The performance starts at 7:30pm with matinees at 2:30pm on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. The play is approximately 90 minutes long, with no intermission. This reviewer attended the January 15 performance. Information and tickets are available online and at The Gladstone Theatre box office.