Through October 16
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE Avon Theatre/Stratford Festival
Since movies started well over a century ago, there is a long tradition of stage shows turning up on the big screen.
There is much less of a tradition of the reverse, movies being turned into stage shows.
The Stratford Festival is trying that, with Lee Hall turning the movie script of “Shakespeare in Love” from Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman into a stage show on the proscenium stage of the Avon Theatre.
With one small caveat, it works really, really well.
The small caveat is a problem, it’s the weak projection of Shannon Taylor’s Viola de Lesseps.
In other words, whenever music is being played on stage, the female lead isn’t always heard above the lute and other instruments helping tell the story.
It wasn’t just me, since the couple in the next two seats had the same problem.
If you have seen the movie, the story on stage is the same, playwright William Shakespeare (Luke Humphrey) bordering on writer’s block until fed lines by Saamer Usmani’s Christopher Marlowe, like Cyrano de Bergerac, to help seduce the young woman who wants to be an actor.
Of course, the essential problem is that women weren’t allowed on stage in Elizabethan times, with all female roles played in drag, like some Ivy League shows from my generation.
Well, Viola plays a 21st Century feminist and shows up for an audition in male costume and is cast as Romeo in a play Shakespeare is having trouble writing, a comedy about “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter.”
In a stage instant, it becomes “Romeo and Juliet,” an intricate tale of theater finances, personal finances, stage censorship and arranged marriages.
In the more unlikely part of the plot, Viola is running between her work as Romeo in male costume and her life role as the daughter of a rich man, handing her over along with a large cash dowry to the murderous Wessex (Rylan Wilkie), an impoverished noble who is close enough to the throne by blood that Queen Elizabeth (Sarah Orenstein) must approve the marriage.
Wessex plans to sail to Virginia with his new wife and grow tobacco and get rich, not an unlikely dream in Shakespeare’s time.
But first, Viola has to follow her stage dreams.
That includes learning her lines, with Will Shakespeare mixing lines from “R&J” and winding up in bed with her, although slightly more clothed than Gwyneth Paltrow in the movie.
We wind up with the historically unlikely scene of Viola on stage as Juliet to Shakespeare’s Romeo with the queen hidden in the audience and the Lord Chamberlain stashed in a cellar to keep him from shutting down the show, as he has already shut down a theater which was going to put Viola on stage.
Director Declan Donnellan has the usual strong Stratford group of small role players, so many scenes working because of strong people in small parts, Brad Hodder’s Ned Alleyn, Stephen Ouimette’s theater company manager Henslowe and Nurse (Karen Robinson).
That’s especially true in the actual Opening Night of R&J where the audience is (mostly) backstage watching the action as the performers work miracles to get the show on stage and keep it moving, with some really amazing synchronized stage business.
That alternates with the structure of the stage moving to put the audience before the action on stage.
The show is filled with flip lines from Shakespeare’s plays and theatrical asides like the boy on stage hoping to break into the theater named John Webster.
In real life, he wrote plays with late career Shakespeare.
The show also has an amazing set from Nick Ormerod which can be anything from the main stage of The Curtain Theater to Viola’s bedroom.
Well, if you have seen the movie you know what happens although I have wondered about that final scene on screen.
If you haven’t seen the movie, just show up at the Avon with a ticket and watch the masterwork of Tom Stoppard filtered on to the stage.
You may wind up in love with “Shakespeare in Love.”
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