Saturday, May 12, 2018

“Shakespeare in Love” at Seattle Shakespeare Co.

Chiara Motley in Shakespeare in Love (John Ulman)
Shakespeare in Love
Seattle Shakespeare Company
(at Cornish Playhouse)
Through June 3, 2018

The movie, Shakespeare in Love, is a delicious, funny Elizabethan slice-of-life, if you imagine what it might have been like to be a relatively poor playwright toiling away as fast as possible to create pages of script while not even knowing what play you’re writing. Will Shakespeare is the playwright and he’s writing a play on the fly that is tentatively called Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter. The delightful movie by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard has been adapted by Lee Hall into a stage play that retains huge chunks of the movie script.

Apparently, even in Elizabethan times, people love comedies, and the Queen loves a dog on stage. Earning the money means writing what people want to buy, so Shakespeare (Rafael Jordan) and Marlowe (Tim Gouran) write what theater producers Henslowe (Bradford Farwell) and Burbage (MJ Sieber) want them to, unless their muse is busted. And theater producers owe other folks money like Fennyman (Keith Dahlgren) who is ready to toast some heels to get it back.

Women didn’t fare so well back then and either they toiled for little for others like Nurse (Gretchen Douma) or they got married off to men chosen by their fathers. Viola de Lesseps (Chiara Motley) is the daughter of a rich man who wants his grandchildren to be noble, so she’s to marry noble-but-poor Lord Wessex (Brian Claudio Smith) and sail to Virginia, whether she likes it or not. However, Viola loves the theater and Shakespeare’s writing in particular, and she decides to sneak into his company to try out as a player.

She’s a natural, so naturally, she gets cast as Romeo and meets her idol Shakespeare and falls in love with more than his writing. Shakespeare has visited her house and fallen for her as a maid, but of course, can’t recognize her right away as a man-boy. How Shakespearean of him.

They do fall in love with each other, but their love is destined to be crushed by circumstances, and Romeo the play slowly turns into a tragedy as Viola and Will hurtle toward their separate destinies. We hear swaths of Romeo and Juliet as the real-life love affair experiences lovers at dawn taking their leave, or talking to each other on or around a balcony.

The current production by Seattle Shakespeare Company has plenty of solid veteran Shakes performers and brings Motley and husband Smith back to town to hang out with us again. But in this instance, the script is better than the production. It’s a bit lackluster and fusses way too much with the bare set stairway-and-platform structures that get pushed around to make different locations. The fact that they’re using the Cornish Playhouse’s huge stage with a stripped down set dwarfs a lot of what they’re trying to accomplish.

The players with the most energy are Saxton Jay Walker as actor Ned Alleyn and Gouran as Kit Marlowe. Jordan and Motley do a nice job as Will and Viola, but Motley starts off too saccharine, at first, and Jordan stays a bit too earnest and never really breaks out with much fun. The tentative feeling may go away as the run progresses, but only with a bit more commitment and energy.
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