Arts theater review

“Shall I compare thee to a mummer’s play?”

Lee Hall’s faithful adaptation of the 1998 movie takes the stage in Boston

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Shakespeare and Sir Thomas Kent in 'Shakespeare in Love.'

Shakespeare in Love
Based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard
Adapted for the stage by Lee Hall
Directed by Scott Edmiston
Calderwood Pavilion at Boston Center for the Arts
Jan. 12 — Feb. 10

Imagine a William Shakespeare (George Olesky) who isn’t quite as eloquent as his plethora of plays would imply. At the beginning of Shakespeare in Love, this is the version of Will we get: writer’s block, broke, and losing his faith in his own career as a playwright and a poet. He is also following under the shadow of his much more noteworthy friend and fellow playwright, Kit Marlowe (Eddie Shields), while Henslowe (Ken Baltin), owner of The Rose theatre, hounds Shakespeare. Without the promise of profits from another play, Henslowe himself faces bankruptcy and loss of The Rose at the hands of Fennyman (Remo Airaldi) the loan-shark.

With this foundational exposition in mind, the play continues similarly to the award-winning film of the same name. However, contrary to the 1998 film, which focused heavily on Will and Viola’s (Jennifer Ellis) blooming romance and its parallel to his famous play Romeo and Juliet, this play adaptation by Lee Hall focuses more on the theater element found in the story of Shakespeare in Love. It places a heavier emphasis on the process of writing, rehearsing, and preparing a play in the grand scheme of the theater. Less of a romance, this adaptation serves more as a look at the comedy, love, and tragedy that can go into the making of a great play.

Moreover, it was very easy to follow every character’s arc and understand each of their intentions as the story unfolded. The cast disappeared seamlessly behind their various roles and really dragged the audience onto the stage with them, whether it be in the midst of a virile fight or as a hushed spectator dropping onto a quiet love scene. I also appreciated seeing the enjoyment on the actors’ faces throughout the play. Specifically, there was one particular scene that happened right after the intermission, obviously meant to invoke a certain kind of mood, yet seeing the rest of the cast laugh as they fled backstage or bashfully dodged away really made the experience personable. It was like watching a group of friends play a game together.

Design-wise, the setup of the theatre was rather simplistic. I overheard someone nearby mention how the stage was set up similar to the actual Rose theatre. Now, I’m not entirely sure about that, but what I do know is that the stage was surprisingly versatile in all the ways the cast and crew utilized it. Simple yet poignant is a good way to describe the impact of the stage’s presence on a theatre-goer’s experience to this show. Additionally, the way the actors would also perform among and above the audience made the show that much more immersive for everyone there.

The musical elements, along with the costume design, also tied together the overall atmosphere of the play and transported the audience back to Shakespeare’s time. The costumes especially helped to distinguish the characters’ roles from each other. Kit Marlowe and Shakespeare donned leathery, bad-boy-esque outfits while all the noblewomen and -men wore fanciful fabrics and garish, pompous regalia.

Having watched and loved the movie, I was thoroughly excited to attend a showing of Lee Hall’s stage adaptation of Shakespeare in Love. I am pleased to admit that the play did not leave me disappointed, and if I had the chance, I would go back to see it again. If anything, it’s always nice to remind them how “we very much like a dog.”