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Review: WILL ON THE HILL...OR WON'T THEY? at Shakespeare Theatre Company

Shakespeare in the Time of COVID-19 and Video Calls

Shakespeare is known to have written his best plays while in quarantine during an outbreak of plague. It only seems fitting to be watching his work during this challenging time on a video call rather than a stage. For Shakespeare Theatre Company's 18th "Will on the Hill", they do just that. Shakespeare Theatre's Will on the Hill...or Won't They?, written by Nat Cassidy and directed by Samantha Wyer Bello, is a "play-within-a-play" set over a video call during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Director (Christopher Michael Richardson) has his hands full trying to orchestrate an online production starring members of Congress. While the director is trying his best, there is another "tempest" of the "Meet the Press" kind brewing between Sen. Jones (E. Faye Butler) and Sen. Smith (Holly Twyford). Both senators drag their madly-in-love aides, Jessica (Felicia Curry) and Ronny (Gregory Wooddell), into their feud. Will on the Hill...or Won't They? is almost like attending a lecture on Shakespeare by multiple enthusiast professors, but it leaves the audience with a major case of "Zoom fatigue."

Review: WILL ON THE HILL...OR WON'T THEY? at Shakespeare Theatre Company
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton in "Will on the Hill...or Won't They?"
Image courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company

The play explores different questions and themes pertaining to Shakespeare, but the most resounding question is, "Why do we make such a big deal about Shakespeare?" If you are a Shakespeare lover, there are plenty of Shakespeare quotes (from A Midnight Summer's Dream to Henry V ) for you to savor and linger on every word. It is kind of fun to see Senators and Representatives dish out their lines with a range from monotone to passionate.

Review: WILL ON THE HILL...OR WON'T THEY? at Shakespeare Theatre Company
Michael Urie in "Will on the Hill...or Won't They?"
Image courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company.

The professional acting cast of Will on the Hill..or Won't They? are at their best as they contemplate the complexity of Shakespeare. The best "lectures" include a conversation between Michael Urie, Jessica, and Ronny about why actors perform Shakespeare, and Sen. Smith talking to Jessica about Shakespeare's famous "to be or not to be" monologue. In addition to the main cast, there are celebrity guest cameos from André De Shields, Kelley Curran, Stacey Keach Press, and Harry Hamlin. While they are only on screen for a few seconds, it is pure delight to see them step for an instant into the world of Shakespeare.

Review: WILL ON THE HILL...OR WON'T THEY? at Shakespeare Theatre Company
André De Shields in "Will on the Hill...Or Won't They?"
Image courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company.
Review: WILL ON THE HILL...OR WON'T THEY? at Shakespeare Theatre Company
Kelley Curran in "Will on the Hill...Or Won't They?"
Image courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company.

The set is a "Zoom within a Zoom." While this reflects Shakespeare's use of a "play within a play" and provides a platform for some classic miscommunication issues, it doesn't provide the audience with a sense of escape from what is happening in the real world between the pandemic and politics. This setting, along with the presentation, quickly causes "Zoom fatigue" to set in. Despite this, the setting of a video call gives weight and focus to Shakespeare's words. This new setting truly is "a brave new world" for theater and for Shakespeare.

Running Time: 1 hour without an intermission

Shakespeare Theatre Company's Will on the Hill, Or Won't They? is available to watch on Vimeo until September 17, 2020. The show is pay-what-you-can and benefits STC's theatre education programs.

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