The latest production at Theatre on the Square in downtown Tacoma was well worth the block-long walk from my car in the rain.
I met up with my cousin, Lavinia Hart in the lobby and we proceeded up the stairs to our seats. As we sat down, Lavinia looked around and marveled at the stage and the layout. She teaches acting and directing at Wayne State University in Detroit and is a member of Actors’ Equity Association. I asked her, “How many seats do you think?” She did a quick look around and said, “Three hundred?” My theatre expert was way off . . . it seats three hundred AND two. The theater looks as beautiful today as it did in 1993 when it opened. I was on the Tacoma Actors Guild board shortly after the opening. The theater has two studios and a rehearsal space adjacent to the Pantages.
No curtain was drawn, so the wonderful set dominated the audience’s view even in the semi-darkness. The set is laid out like the Globe Theatre in the days of Shakespeare with a balcony overlooking the stage, but with stairs leading up to the balcony from both sides. Steps lead up to the constructed stage and run across the entire stage front. The set works as the streets of Verona, a castle or manor, a bedroom, a rehearsal hall, and more.
I love a quotation from a reviewer of a similar production, “Shakespeare in Love is a nonsensical fan fiction with a plot that stretches past implausibility to the absurd.” And it’s true. The play is based on the movie which opened in 1998. The movie script was written by Marc Norman and playwright Tom Stoppard. Stoppard is an accomplished playwright: Arcadia, The Coast of Utopia, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, Professional Foul, The Real Thing, Travesties, The Invention of Love, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. The film won seven Academy Awards, among them Best Picture, Best Actress (Gwyneth Paltrow), Best Supporting Actress (Judi Dench), and Best Original Screenplay. The film was adapted for the stage by Lee Hall in 2011. My wife, Peg and I saw the movie when it first came out. I was not impressed. However, I now find myself thinking I should watch the film, again. I loved the play.
The plot of “Shakespeare in Love” is much like all of Shakespeare’s plays: mayhem, nobility, double-dealing, men as women and women as men, mayhem, comedy, tragedy, love, and . . . did I mention mayhem?
The play opens with Shakespeare as he tries desperately to come up with a phrase, “Shall I compare thee to a . . . to a . . . ah . . . ?” Searching for just the right word is sometimes a heavy chore.
I was captivated early on as William Shakespeare, (Rodman Bolek) holds an audition for actors. Almost all have a set piece written by Will’s friend and rival Christopher Marlowe, “Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium.” I was shocked. I first learned that phrase from watching Christopher Plummer as Cyrano from a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV production in 1963. I thought it was an invention by Edmond Rostand for “Cyrano de Bergerac,” but it’s a line from Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus” (1604).
Bolek portrayed a great writer’s block-stymied author, not much of a fighter, a confused kisser, and like many in the theatre deeply in love with his craft. I’ve seen Bolek in several plays at Tacoma Little Theatre. My favorite was “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.” Bolek has a BA in Theatre from Trinity University.
Christopher Marlowe is played by Micheal O’Hara. Micheal played the helpful mentor Marlowe with humor and affection. Peg and I have seen Micheal and his wife Sharry O’Hare in numerous local productions. We saw them both in Lakewood Playhouse’s production of “Forbidden Broadway” last season.
Viola/Thomas Kent is both love interest and aspiring actor. Again, much like Shakespeare’s plays, a woman playing a man with no one the wiser was done nicely by Victoria Ashley. She was wonderful both as a man and a woman. We last saw Victoria in “Laura” last season at Tacoma Little Theatre where she is a teaching artist and director.
Playing the nobleman Wessex, who has bargained with Viola’s father for her hand in marriage, is Spencer Funk. He is a product of Cornish College of the Arts and is skilled in most aspects of theatre. As Wessex he shows just the right amount of haughtiness and conceit. He recently played in “Much Ado About Nothing” at Seattle Shakespeare.
Viola’s nurse (watch dog) was played by Rachel Fitzgerald. Rachel’s nurse was protective, secure at secret holding, sweet, and funny. I really enjoyed nurse’s face as she stood guard over Wessex as he spoke to Viola. Who would want to mess with that nurse? She has performed in a number of Shakespeare plays. I look forward to seeing her in more productions.
Reading through the program at intermission, my eyebrows shot up when I saw the name Mike Storslee. I have not seen Mike perform since he was a regular on our Cable-TV cult favorite production: The Spud Goodman Show. He was always funny. He is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. We talked briefly after “Shakespeare in Love.”
There was a great team behind this production. Christopher Nardine did an excellent job as director, which is not surprising with his background and body of works. The set designer was Lex Marcos. Very nicely done, Lex. He is the resident designer at Tacoma Arts Live. Eric Clausell was the choreographer. We loved him in ART and I was so disappointed that we missed his performance in his one-man show of “Thurgood.” Naarah R. McDonald did a magnificent job as costume designer. The gowns and dresses almost glowed. Geoffrey Alm was the fight director. With swords flashing and clashing there is always a possibility of accidents. The fight scenes were nicely blocked. No one got hurt.
“Shakespeare in Love” was fun to watch. There were lots of laughs and enough serious moments to let you think, and dream.
The play runs through November 3rd. For more information visit – tacomaartslive.org/events/calendar/eventdetail/1435/