Posts Tagged ‘shakespeare in love’

Shakespeare in Love
by Lee Hall (Adapted From Screenplay by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman)
Directed by Suki Peters
Insight Theatre Company
August 30, 2019

Aaron Dodd, Michelle Hand (standing), Gwendolyn Wotawa
Photo by John Lamb
Insight Theatre Company

Shakespeare in Love is a play! Or at least, it is now. The acclaimed and somewhat controversial 1998 film was adapted for the stage by playwright Lee Hall and first produced in London in 2014. Now, Insight Theatre Company has brought the play to St. Louis in an energetic production currently on stage at the Grandel Theatre. While the show itself has a few issues in terms of translation from screen to stage, Insight has assembled a top-notch cast, and the result is a fun, highly entertaining show.

Despite the ongoing debate over its Oscar wins, my opinion on the film of Shakespeare in Love is largely positive. Maybe it didn’t deserve to beat Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture, but on its own merits, it’s a clever, witty, and enjoyable film. The play retains a lot of that wit, although the transition to the stage seems a bit clunky at times, in that the focus seems to be more on Will Shakespeare (Aaron Dodd) and his relationship to friend/frenemy/mentor Christopher Marlowe (Spencer Sickmann) than I remember from the film. Shakespeare’s unexpected paramour and muse, the idealistic Viola de Lesseps (Gwendolyn Wotawa) is still prominent, but doesn’t seem to have the same level of emphasis onstage, and Viola’s story takes something of a backseat to Shakespeare’s, particularly at the end. The ensemble nature of the piece is highlighted more on stage, as well, with a relatively large cast and some excellent featured roles. This is a good thing, although there is a lot of hopping from setting to setting that may flow well on screen, but can seem a bit abrupt on stage. Still, for the most part, it’s an engaging story, especially in the hands of director Suki Peters and the excellent cast. The love story is here, as is the generally broad comic tone with some serious overtones and themes, including the relationship between artists and their patrons; the roles of women in theatre and in society; the pressure of living up to societal expectations; the very nature of inspiration and collaboration, and their role in creating arts, and more. It’s a lively, fast-paced show that plays more as a comedy than a romance, at least on stage, and the biggest romance seems to be of writers/performers with their work, more than with a particular person.

The cast, as previously mentioned, is first-rate, led by the personable Dodd as the conflicted, earnest Shakespeare, the charismatic Sickmann as the worldly Christopher Marlowe, and the engaging Wotawa as the determined, stage-loving Viola. There are also strong performances from Michelle Hand as Viola’s devoted Nurse; Ted Drury as Viola’s oily fiance, the Earl of Wessex; and the memorable, stage-commanding Wendy Renee Greenwood in the small but pivotal role of Queen Elizabeth I. Other standouts include delightful comic performances from Joneal Joplin and Whit Reichert as theatre patron Fennyman and producer Henslowe. Carl Overly Jr. and Shane Signorino are also excellent as prominent rival actors Richard Burbage and Ned Alleyn. The whole supporting cast is strong as well, with a lot of energy and an excellent sense of ensemble chemistry. Overall, the Elizabethan atmosphere and the sense of what the theatrical world in Shakespeare’s day was like shines through with vibrant enthusiasm.

The Elizabethan flair is well-maintained through the play’s physical production, as well. Chuck Winning’s multi-level unit set is colorful and versatile, as are Julian King’s impeccably well-suited costumes. There’s excellent work from lighting designer Jaime Zayas and sound designer Robin Weatherall, as well. There is also a strong musical sense in this production, with period-style songs and score played by musicians Rachel Bailey, Chuck Brinkley, Ruth Ezell, Cara Langhauser, Catherine Edwards Kopff, and Abraham Shaw, and vocals by various cast members. The music especially works well for setting and maintaining the tone and era of the play.

Overall, I would say Shakespeare in Love on stage, as performed by Insight, is a success. The adaptation is not without its flaws, but the overall enthusiasm of the production and the superb cast make up for any script and flow issues, for the most part. It’s a fun show, ultimately, with a real sense of love for its characters, and for theatre itself. It’s worth seeing especially for the strong performances.

Cast of Shakespeare in Love
Photo by John Lamb
Insight Theatre Company

Insight Theatre Company is presenting Shakespeare in Love at the Grandel Theatre until September 15, 2019

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