Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Shakespeare In Love—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

“Ah, Sweet Mystery of…” Love

This U.S. Premiere, comedy/romance was adapted for the stage by Lee Hall from the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard and is directed by Christopher Liam Moore.  It is playing at their Angus Bowmer Theatre through October 29th.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org or call 1-800-219-8161.

“Love” is an oft-misleading word.  It usually means “lust” in films, as two people admire the other’s physical attributes.  It means their baser instincts have kicked in and they are looking for some “companionship,” at least for one night.  Nothing wrong with that, it’s human.  But don’t call it Love.  Love is often a deep caring for another, too, sans the physical yearnings.  But I would like to believe that, like the old song goes, “when you see a stranger, across a crowded room, and you know, you know even then…,” that there will be something special between you.

It is something that often happens when you least expect it.  But one thing seems certain, don’t force it…let it flow naturally:  “Do not seek out Love, for Love, if it finds you worthy, will guide your course!”  For an artist, like Mr. Shakespeare, it is not unlike trusting one’s Muse, that mysterious force that guides an artist.  If you put full faith in it, unfettered, and trust it unconditionally, it will be true to you.  And our Bard, in this tale, has both True Love and a Muse in his “little corner of the world.”

It seems that Will Shakespeare (William DeMeritt) has reached an impasse called, “writer’s block,” in his latest outing.  This is not terribly unusual for an artist.  Often they have other, like-minded friends who spur them on and inspire them.  His is Kit (Christopher) Marlowe (Ted Deasy) who is a rival but a damn good playwright (Faust, e.g.) in his own right.  It was well known, in the early 1900’s that Tolkien (Lord of the Rings, et. al.) and Lewis (Narnia, et. al.) were friends and often critiqued each other’s works.  So it is with these two famous writers.

Currently, Will is being badgered by mangers, producers and agents, Henslowe (Brent Hinkley), Fennyman (Tony DeBruno), et. al. to write another show but he seems stuck with something he’s writing called, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter, as it’s just not gelling.  Also, although he has a leading lady (Will Dao)—it was against the law for women to appear onstage—he has yet to find a leading man…and an ending to his play.

It just so happens that there is a young lady Viola (Jamie Ann Romero), from a prominent family, that is just itching to get into the theatre, so she disguises herself as a boy, Thomas Kent, tries out for the part and gets it.  And, it just so happens, that this young lady is engaged to a Lord Wessex (Al Espinosa) but it is a marriage of convenience, not love (common in those days).  Also, it happens that Will has been smitten by the female visage of Kent and they become an item, although secretly, for obvious reasons.

Will is now inspired and so his play takes a turn for the better and becomes the traditional, Romeo & Juliet.  He hires a famous actor, Ned Alleyn (James Ryen), to get even more coverage for the play. Even Queen Elizabeth (Kate Mulligan) gets in on the act, as she is anxious to see his newest opus.  But then reality raises its ugly head, as his Juliet’s voice changes from puberty to adulthood and so he is forced…I think you can see where this is going, so I will leave it, “…and thereby hangs a tale.”  Suffice to say, the ending is bittersweet.

The director does a wonderful job of keep the play moving with a turntable bed/playing-stage and his casting is spot on.  Also to be commended are the scenic designer, Rachel Hauck and, especially, the costume designer, Susan Tsu, for all those marvelous, period clothing the actors wear.  As always, the cast is first-rate and, to make the point again of, “there are no small parts…,” the young actor playing the disgruntled, John Webster (Preston Mead), even though the part is small, he stands out, pouting his way through the play.


Footnotes

A couple of footnotes:  Taverns and boarding houses in America, through the early 1900’s, had signs hanging on their doors, “No actors or dogs allowed” (it just so happens, I treasure both).  The Public Education System in schools seem to still mirror this sentiment, as they don’t seem to be able to find any real value for Youth being educated in the Arts (guess instilling confidence, teamwork, and a safe haven to explore their feelings and other aspects of life, don’t count) and so those programs are usually the first ones cut from budget.

Also, I once had a copy of a script called, “The First Actress,” which follows somewhat closely the plot of this story.  It does not have the love story, but Will is writing a play, in this case, I believe, called, “The Merchant of Venice,” instead of “Romeo & Juliet,” and the Queen sends an agent to check on the progress of his play, not the Queen herself.  Anyway, the plots are similar enough that I’m surprised that credit is not given to it, as it’s a rather good play, and the fact that it concentrates on the rights of women and not the love story, in my opinion, gives it a stronger base.

I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.