Review: THE BOOK OF WILL at Big Idea Theatre

See How History Was Made.

By: Mar. 24, 2024
Review: THE BOOK OF WILL at Big Idea Theatre
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John Heminges and Henry Condell aren’t names that are immediately recognizable, but they should be. Without them, some of our favorite titles would be lost to history. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Hamlet wouldn’t exist today. No one would know the name William Shakespeare. One of America’s most produced playwrights, Lauren Gunderson, has brought their story to the stage with a fascinating glimpse into 17th century England. The Book of Will is partially a history lesson and wholly entertaining, and Big Idea Theatre has brought together solid local talent to immerse us in the world of the King’s Men.

The show opens with a very passionate and believable William Oberholtzer as actor Richard Burbage. He wants to preserve Shakespeare’s plays, but dies before he can even begin. That leaves John Heminges (Greg Parker) and Henry Condell (Cameron Rose) to carry the torch, and it’s a heavy one. In Shakespeare’s time, plays were not written into a script as they are now. In order to piece Shakespeare’s works back together, the men had to rely on actors’ sides (which each contained only a single actor’s lines and stage directions), quartos (pirated texts), prompt scripts, and the actors’ memories. Printing was also prohibitively expensive. The only way the men could hope to preserve the works was to allow the only publisher they could find willing to do it, a man they didn’t trust, to take on the project. That man was William Jaggard, also played by Oberholtzer. The Book of Will is a testament to the power of art -- “Plays always held more solace than priests,” says John – and the healing power that words have. After suffering setbacks and heartbreak, John and Henry wonder at their reasons for taking on such a mountainous challenge. “Life is a tempest of loss…why do we bother with any of it?” John asks. Henry wisely responds, “To feel again.”

We also feel all the emotions these men are going through. They do a terrific job of inhabiting their characters and pulling us through the heartache, frustration, desperation, and loyalty that make up the King’s Men. The whole cast is strong and makes a powerful showing of a solid script. Gunderson also writes independent women into the show, notably Heminges’s barkeep daughter, Alice (Jackie Martin), who judiciously challenges the men and keeps them on their toes with her insight and intellect. These female characters celebrate the role of women in Shakespeare’s works and bring attention to their burgeoning importance in the world of theatre. Gunderson's writing always flows with organic and witty dialogue, making two hours pass by in a flash. The Book of Will is a treat for any fan of Shakespeare, history, or theatre. If you're one of those, I recommend catching it before it closes next week.

The Book of Will plays at Big Idea Theatre through March 30th. Tickets may be found online at the button below or by calling the Box Office at (916) 960-3036.

Photo credit: Kaitlin Richards