Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Book of Will—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

Kate Hurster, David Kelly, Kevin Kenerly, Jefferey King.
Photo by Jenny Graham

A Legacy of Loyalty

     This revealing look at Shakespeare’s times is a West Coast Premiere by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Christopher Liam Moore.  It is playing at the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre in repertory, through October 13th.  For more information, go to their site at 

    Fame may be fleeting but friends are forever!  When the Final Judgement is rendered, who will stand by our sides and attest for us?  It will be, I believe, our actions and deeds, our own words and thoughts, and our friends.  “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…” and so, this life, too, will pass into obscurity…save this, the words we writ and utter as to the human condition, preserved by those who believed in us, are the most precious gifts we can offer future generations, and thus, such as it is with this tale….

    It seems that several months after the Bard’s death, his plays have been scattered as so much seed being blown about randomly by the wind.  His words misconstrued, scenes missing and whole sections rewritten.  And so, it is up to a few of his most loyal companions, Heminges (Jeffrey King), and his wife Rebecca (Kate Mulligan) and daughter, Alice (Kate Hurster), Condell (David Kelly) and his wife, Elizabeth (Catherine Castellanos) and, for a time, Richard Burbage (Kevin Kenerly), the lead actor of this acting troupe, The King’s Men, to put right what is being torn asunder.  And so, amongst much drink and little money, they attempt the impossible.

    How to assemble such a feat, with bits and pieces strewn here and there.  But, where there’s a “Will,” there’s a way.  They find Crane (Cristofer Jean), a lover of his words, who has his own secret stash.  Then there is the matter of printing it all, which involves, perhaps, hiring the self-same printer, the blind, William (Kenerly, again) and his son, Isaac (Jordan Barbour), who had pirated much of the Bard’s work in the first place.  And then financing must be secured to finish such a massive undertaking, and so they seek out the “Dark Lady (Castellanos, again),” now a published poet, the Muse of Will’s Sonnets, and his admirer and rival, Ben Jonson (Daniel T. Parker), a rather famous author in his own right.

    After some false starts, a couple of deaths of important members, doubts and bitter conflicts, they trudge ahead to preserve, perhaps the greatest writer the world has known.  It is a trek, inspired by love and loyalty, which will raise high the flag of friendship and will forever seal beauty on the written page and stage.
This is an epic story by Gunderson and one little known to the general public.  And so, bringing it to light, is a monumental task and one that deserves being extended into two or three parts, rather than trying to condense it into a couple hour show.  What is there is terrific but I feel it needs to be expanded to show the full force of this tale and Gunderson’s loving treatment of it and its characters.

    Moore has done a first-rate job of keeping the story coherent and staging it in a sparse setting so that the plot and characters take center stage.  The cast is quite impressive in this show (as they always are at OSF) “…and each [person], in [their] time, plays many parts.”  It is truly an amazing story.

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


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