BWW Review: SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE at CONNECTICUT REPERTORY THEATRE
Some may doubt that a stage adaptation of the terrifically inventive, romantic, and witty 1998 film, "Shakespeare in Love," could possibly succeed. However, Connecticut Repertory Theatre's current production, expertly directed by Vincent Tycer and acted by a vibrant, masterful cast, proves that setting this story--which is about theater, after all--in an actual theater, creates a magic all its own. This production is, without a doubt, "a hit! a palpable hit!"
Lee Hall has adapted the script very closely from Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard's screenplay, and whether or not you saw the film, the story is a delight in its clever melding of historical fact and speculative fiction, not to mention the numerous allusions to Shakespeare's most familiar works, among them Romeo and Juliet, of course, and Twelfth Night, which this play suggests (fancifully) that he penned just afterward. But you don't have to brush up your Shakespeare in order to have a marvelous time.
The action opens by dramatizing writer's block: young Will Shakespeare (a wholly winning Jack Dillon) has begun a new play, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter, but he can't get much further than the title. His friend Christopher "Kit" Marlowe (Mauricio Miranda, slightly mysterious and warmly charismatic) tries to help, but Will is convinced that only a muse will show him the way.
Just in time, he meets Viola DeLesseps (Erin Cessna, who perfectly balances tender passion and rationality), a beautiful young woman who comes to the theater every night and knows each word of his plays by heart. Naturally, love blooms, but the course of true love never did run smooth. At her father's command, Viola is engaged to marry the Duke of Wessex (an appropriately vile Justin Jagar), who wants her money in exchange for his title. Longing to be with her Will, and to fulfill her dreams of acting, Viola dons the clothing of a boy and wins the role of Romeo. But winning as a woman will prove more difficult.
The story goes on to blend Will and Viola's romance with an entertaining and enlightening view of Elizabethan theater business, rehearsals, and backstage calamities and triumphs. Every cast member is filled with conviction and zest, with some standing out only by virtue of their roles. Adrianna Simmons, whose voice calls to mind a blend of Bernadette Peters and Judi Dench, makes a tough and adorable Nurse; Angela Hunt is a statuesque Queen Elizabeth I, with a decided sense of irony; Angus MacLennan plays Ned Alleyn as a masterful actor who knows his own worth; and Leone Rodriguez perfectly captures a certain kind of creepy youth who glories in bloodshed (his favorite Shakespeare play is Titus Andronicus): listen for the wonderful joke when his full name is revealed towards the end.
Morgan Shea's set gives this large cast plenty of room to move and is cleverly flexible. The open floor easily serves as a rehearsal hall, a tavern, and a bedroom; and a catwalk above shifts from being a balcony to a bridge to the Delesseps' great hall. Jennifer Scapetis-Tycer, Dialect, Voice, and Text Coach, brings out the best in all the performers. And Brittny Mahan's costumes, an intriguing mixture of period and contemporary pieces, keeps us in Elizabethan times while staying true to the play's buoyant pace and energy.
Connecticut Repertory Theatre has consistently proven to be one of the best companies in the state, and "Shakespeare in Love" is the second in yet another season of strong plays. Every one of them should be seen.
"Shakespeare in Love" runs through December 8th. Show times: Evening: Thursday: 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 8 p.m. Matinee: Saturday and Sunday 2 p.m. Tickets: $10 to $40. Available online at crt.uconn.edu, by phone at 860-486-2113, or at the box office.
Photo: Jack Dillon (Will) and the company of SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE onstage at Connecticut Repertory Theatre November 21 through December 8. Tickets and info at crt.uconn.edu or 860-486-2113. Photographer: Gerry Goodstein.