EQUIVOCATION Kavinoky Theatre
May 10, 2019, 15:02
Through May 19
EQUIVOCATION Kavinoky Theatre
Every year, I see Shakespeare plays tinkered with by a director who wants something other than a bunch of guys dressed up in Tudor dress, telling what is often a universal story.
Those changes range from changing the sex of the performers to changing the place where the story occurs.
Often, it works.
Often, it doesn’t.
Jesuit Bill Cain’s “Equivocation” is a look at propaganda, the propaganda of the Protestant government of King James II (Adriano Gatto) suppressing the Gunpowder Plot to kill the government and an attempt to force the country’s supreme playwright, William Shakespeare (Guy Balotine), to write a government version of what happened.
Another part of the story is that a group of Catholics were said to be behind it and those arrested were savagely executed.
These were the times of religious wars across Europe and in Britain, as the Protestants who came to power under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I struggled against Catholic attempts to restore the “Old Faith.”
That included the stretch under Queen Mary when the Catholics returned to power.
Those Catholic attempts included several plots like The Gunpowder Plot and massive government pressure to maintain power, especially under spymasters Sir Francis Walsingham and Sir Robert Cecil.
That meant Cecil could put pressure on Shakespeare to write what the spymaster wanted about the Gunpowder Plot, making sure it told the story the government wanted repeated to the public.
There were serious questions about what happened and who was involved and what methods of torture were used to extract the story of what Henry Catesby and Guy Fawkes actually did and how much came from provocateurs working for Cecil.
There was also the question of how much hidden priests like the Jesuit Henry Garnet (Christopher Guilmet) knew about the plot.
Garnet was known to be in the country and had been for years, dodging government secret police and even running a press to print Catholic propaganda and spreading his treatise on equivocation, a point of view not popular with the government.
Oh, you’re wondering what equivocation means?
Cain explains in the show, the difference between answering a question and answering the question within the question.
In the play, Shakespeare doesn’t want to write what Cecil wants but knows he’s walking a fine line between freedom and status in London and a lonely stay in prison and the torture chambers of the government.
He’s playing the short game of staying alive while Cecil is playing the long game of keeping King James in power, as the Scot consolidates Protestant control of the country, a country which is divided religiously among Catholics and growing Protestant sects.
Shakespeare himself is caught in the middle, as the son of a Catholic and someone whose religious situation is complicated by his often missing Sunday services (and the government checked).
What’s different about just doing this fictional story is intermixing it with a story about Shakespeare’s theatre company and the playwright’s effort to write this story about evil doings in Scottish politics, especially involving a king named Macbeth.
It takes a while to realize the parallel lines of the plot.
Partially that’s because the performers in the show are characters in both sides of the story, sometimes good roles and sometimes weak, with Balotine’s Shakespeare threaded across both.
It’s a complicated story which drags at times and because fewer and people even realize the story of The Gunpowder Plot.
The days, even in England, “Remember, Remember the Fifth of November” is fading from public memory.
What Cain is doing here is telling a more modern story of governments attempting to control what the public is told about the events of some phase of history.
That’s a day-to-day story, played out on newsprint and on-line.
“Equivocation” is one of those scripts requiring close attention.
It helps if you have seen “Macbeth.”
Director Katie Mallinson has some strong performers to make this work, especially Balotine and Christopher Avery as Cecil, as he twists between the spymaster and an actor in Shakespeare’s company.
Am I equivocating?
Going back to the basic question: Should I see “Equivocation”?
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