Shakespeare in Love
Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando FL
adapted from Tom Stoppard by Lee Hall
directed by Richard Garner
starring John Keller and Susan Maris
“And the Award for Most Intentional Over the Top Acting …in a 2018 Shakespeare production…is…I can’t seem to get this envelope open…Best intentional over acting award goes to… Jacob Dresch for his role as Ned Alleyn…in Shakespeare in Love!”
I made that up, but it is just how this show rolls. It’s over the top, self-referential, and packed with gags aimed straight at the theater aficionado. Billy Shakes (Keller) parties like its 1599, and he’s in a bind all writers understand: pages due NOW and he is free of any idea what to put on them. He’s competing with his buddy Kit Marlowe (Thomas Leverton) for the few stages allowed in Elizabethan England; the church opposed theater considering it corrupt and filthy, and a strong competitor for the ears and farthings of the crowd. Young Viola de Lesseps (Maris) is a rich girl struck by the stage; she’s also a decent actress and has the power to make Shakespeare’s works a hit, except she’s engaged to go to Virginia, and the rules don’t allow women on stage.
There’s a lot of history and tradition packed into that last line, but never mind. While we have a plausible back story to the R&J script, what we also have is a tight, well timed comedy of manners, sex and fart jokes. Closely following the movie script, theres quite a bit of furniture moving and even a live dog. Even QE1 (Anne Herring) loves dogs on stage and you’re not arguing with her nibs. Duncan Bahr plays the role of authority and old school manners as Lord Wessex; he’s engaged to our shrinking Violet to trade his status for her dad’s cash. He senses a great future in tobacco. The other money guy is James Beaman as Fennyman, the financer of the theater. How he got into this job is beyond me, but he calms down when Mr. Shakes tosses him a small speaking part as the apothecary. Dresch covered Ned Alleyn, the pompous actor that hasn’t seen a scene he can’t steal; and Tim Williams is Richard Burbage, the other largish acting ego of the day.
Fast paced acting and a constantly mobile set make these human foibles alive and fun. The language isn’t as over Elizabethan than it needs to be, and no opportunity to drop in an anachronistic Shakespeare quote or plug for the upcoming “12th Night” is missed. There’s usable sword fighting and physical gags, and even the trap door under the stage gets effective use. To go or not to go: there should be no question.