Saturday, April 28, 2018

Thomas Tallis - Orchard Theater Collective

Orchard Theater Collective's promotions are AMAZING.
Damian Leverett as Thomas Tallis.
You may not know the name Thomas Tallis--unless you're a follower of Tudor-era liturgical composers (and aren't we all?)--but you've definitely heard his glorious music.

In this new play, we meet Thomas Tallis in the atmospheric setting of Calvary Baptist Church, where he explains his creative motivation, to create music more beautiful than silence, to glorify God.

As our story starts, Henry VIII (Ben Shaw) is on the throne of England, and he is still feuding with the Pope over the refusal to grant Henry a divorce, which led to England's split with the Catholic church and the founding of the Church of England. Henry has summoned the Pope's favorite singer, a young castrato, to perform. The young man's anxious attempts to please the king don't save him from Henry's vengeance, but his song impresses the king.

Henry sends for the composer, Thomas Tallis (Damian Leverett), and makes him the court composer. When Henry sacks the monasteries, Tallis's friend, a priest, refuses to renounce the pope and is forced into hiding. But Tallis allies himself with the new church, claiming his highest duty is to be able to serve God by creating music to praise Him. But God may be easier to please than Henry, who demands absolute loyalty and declares that the new church will worship and sing in English. Tallis adjusts to the orders of the king and composes angelic polyphonic church music, until Henry's son Edward VI (Kayla Peters) ascends to the throne and insists upon simple music without harmonies or complexity. His protest that the music has too many notes recalls Emperor Joseph II in the movie Amadeus.

After Edward, the throne is held by Mary, Queen of Scots (also Kayla Peters), a Catholic who once again encourages a return to polyphony. But when she is dethroned by her sister, Elizabeth I (Elizabeth Efteland), a Protestant austerity returns to the church.

As Tallis deals with the challenges of working with the changing demands of of his patrons, we also see his friend the priest (Ben Shaw), trying to survive and to minister to the hidden adherents to the banned Catholic church. It's not clear that the two journeys are parallel, though both men follow the path dictated by their beliefs.

What you need to know is THIS: Set in the lovely Calvary Baptist Church, lit by candlelight and with no amplification other than the church's natural acoustics, with Thomas Tallis's gorgeous music sung by the choir (Emily Garst, Joe Allen, Jim Ahrens, Grace Warren and Naomi Karstad), and a strong, endearing cast, this is a unique, gorgeous, compelling show. See it, support it, love it.

SIDE NOTE on why we love Thomas Tallis: Because of this utterly gorgeous art installation in 2013 at the Cloisters in NYC. One of the most amazing art experiences EVER.