A Pleasant Romcom: “Shakespeare in Love”

Shakespeare at Viola’s feet. Photo by Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Co.
Based on the screenplay by Mac Norman & Tom Stoppard
Adapted for the stage by Lee Hall
Directed by Scott Edmiston
Original music/music direction/sound design by David Reiffel
Choreography/period movement by Judith Chaffee
Fight direction by Ted Hewlett

Jan. 12 – Feb. 10, 2018
Calderwood Pavilion
Boston Center for the Arts
Boston, MA
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Review by Kitty Drexel

(Boston, MA) SpeakEasy’s production of Shakespeare in Love is okay. People who loved the movie will get a lot out of attending. Anyone expecting a revelatory experience from their theatre will be disappointed. Aside from the lighting design by Karen Perlow (which made Jennifer Ellis look like a gilded angel floating down from Heaven, and the set look like a theatre in a night forest) and the compositions by David Reiffel, this production is good but unremarkable.   

In Shakespeare in Love, is about one young woman’s determination to experience freedom before she’s sold by her father to a coward for a lordly title. Viola (Jennifer Ellis) is so enraptured by the poetry of William Shakespeare (George Olesky) that she risks everything to audition for Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter. Identities are mistaken, and Will falls in love with Viola during rehearsals. Viola loves Will but the smarmy Lord Wessex (Lewis D. Wheeler) threatens their love. The show does go on.

Lee Hall’s adapted play with music streamlines the plot of the 1998 movie. It has the usual twists and turns but real time action means precious moments like the romantic unwrapping of Viola were cut. Without them, Shakespeare has to lean on its actors for memorability. Ellis gives a delightful but safe performance. Olesky cuts a fine figure in his leather pants but otherwise leaves no lasting impression. Nancy E. Carroll makes a fine queen. She and Leko the sweet pup of Act One steal the best moments of the show.  

Reiffel’s compositions are lovely. They sound easy to sing and offer an alternative, performance appropriate perspective to Shakespeare’s poetry. The ensemble numbers are pleasant to hear. Carolyn Saxon as Nurse sings her solo pieces beautifully.

Shakespeare in Love is not great, but it’s good enough. Ultimately, I have no strong opinions about this production.  The cast and crew have created a competent theatre experience that doesn’t push any boundaries. It’s a fluffy romcom based with no real depth. If that’s your thing: enjoy. If it’s not, please look elsewhere.

Queen’s Note:
We elected a thin-skinned Nazi to the office of the President who is turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so.

Congressional “negotiators” released a spending bill that saves the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and National Public Radio until September at which time, the President and his impotent cronies may still cut arts funding. It is ever important to remain vigilant. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD

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