It isn’t often that a stage production is an adaptation from a movie, but that happens to be the case with Shakespeare in Love. It is a story that flirts with history in an attempt to provide an insight into how Shakespeare may have found inspirations in his daily life to become the acclaimed author we know today.
There are mentions of true historical people of Shakespeare’s day as well as other characters who have been invented for the story at hand. As Neil Hollands, the President of The Williamsburg Players described, this is “more than just a theatre story, I believe this is specifically a community theatre story… It tells a tale much like our own. This is a story about actors with day jobs: the businessman who finds himself enamored with wearing just the right cape on stage, the stutterer who finds his tongue in front of an audience, a young man who feels at home playing a young woman, and a young woman who finds enough magic in one moment on stage to sustain her for a life. It’s a story of harried people making art from meager resources, improvising through disasters, and finding new depths of feelings in their lives as a result.” I couldn’t have said it better if I tried. Hollands succinctly describes in a few sentences not only the story of Shakespeare in Love but also the modern-day heart of any local community theatre.
The Williamsburg Players have created a wonderful production under the direction of Justin Giroux that is visually stunning and draws some belly busting laughs from some of the most unexpected places. Lawrence Nichols and Jessi DiPette lead a large and amazingly talented cast as William Shakespeare and Viola de Lesseps/Thomas Kent respectively. They have incredible chemistry that makes it easy to see them as the titular characters falling in love. Nichols has a strong voice that projects well to the audience and creates a Will that you can’t help but fall in love with even through his bad choices. His accent is strong and believable. DiPette is lovely to watch and her passion shines through the character and creates a stunning balance to Nichols’ performance. They are surrounded by a large supporting cast who is difficult to follow sometimes throughout the performance, not because of their talent, but because it is such a large cast and some performers play multiple characters. Some of the standout performers include Corey Mason who portrays Christopher Marlowe. He presents Marlowe as this approachable, cocky fellow who was fun to watch. Another actor I enjoyed was Alex Bedont who plays Frees/Robin. He has a beautiful singing voice when he auditions for “Romeo and Ethel” that begs for more song. Jackson Query plays Sam, a lad who is comfortable playing a lass on stage. He is hilarious and one to keep your eye on during scenes he is in the background. The actor who had my daughter and I laughing in tears was Caleb Richardson who plays John Webster. He was totally immersed in his performance and some of his best acting was when he was a background character on the stage while others were saying their lines. I highly recommend that you keep your eye on him whenever he appears. The direction was above average and allowed him some freedom to make some fantastic choices as a performer.
To balance the performance of the actors you have to take in the set, costumes, lighting, and sound. Each of these departments shined in this production. Set designer Steve Olson’s vision is beautifully created on the stage. The actors were able to transition from scene to scene with ease and it made sense. I wasn’t left scratching my head wondering how they got from point A to point B. The travelling boat was also fun to watch. Lead Costumer Dylan George and Assistant Costumer Kelsey Helmick brought some incredible fashion to life. Queen Elizabeth I’s dress is breathtaking. I had the opportunity to meet George and Helmick after the performance and to compliment them on the beautiful costumes as well as the timing of the costume changes during the performance. George was very humble and made certain to include Helmick in the praise. They are a fantastic team, and I look forward to seeing more of their work in the future. Lighting designer Scott Hayes’ design was well done. There were a few parts where it was dark and took away from being able to see the performers onstage, but it wasn’t enough to say it was poorly done. He created warmth during the tender moments and hardened the villain’s appearance with his lighting choices. It always amazes me how that is accomplished! Sound Designer Syndi Gordon made a bold choice to include live renaissance music to be played backstage during the performance. There was an Elizabethan Choral group led by Queen Elizabeth herself, Amanda Devlin and Nurse, Lauren Moylan. I was stunned by the subtlety and beauty of the sound when it was the intimate group. It was not as appealing when the whole cast sang, but those moments were few. Moylan’s vocals were haunting and yet comforting as they said goodbye to Viola.
There are so many other people who contributed to making this production an incredible performance. The choreography of both the dancing and fighting added to the ambiance. The actors all managed to maintain their accents and that shows their hard work and commitment as well as the investment of the Accent Coach. The props and set decoration bring the director’s vision to life. This team has set the bar high for the remainder of the season. I look forward to seeing more from The Williamsburg Players in the future. As for now, run, don’t walk to get your tickets to see the final performances this weekend of Shakespeare in Love. Shakespeare won’t be the only one in love at the end of the night!