Shakespeare In Love
At The SpeakEasy Stage Company
Reviewed by Bobby Franklin
We are in the midst of one of our cold and snowy Boston winters, but you don’t have to travel far to have your heart warmed and a smile brought to your face. The New England Premiere of Shakespeare In Love presented by the SpeakEasy Stage Company and playing at the Calderwood Pavillon in Boston’s South End is delightful.
The Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard screenplay from their Academy Award winning best picture has been adapted to the stage by Lee Hall who has kept much of the original script while adding additional dialog including Shakespeare lines. With a cast of eighteen actors plus a dog it is remarkable how smoothly this work flows. Everyone is in synch and the dialog and action never miss a beat. This had to be a challenge for director Scott Edmiston who was clearly up to the task.
The SpeakEasy design team has done a masterful job of transforming the Wimberly Theatre at the Calderwood into The Rose Theater from Shakespeare’s era. The actors move into the aisles at times and the lights are turned up periodically to truly make the audience feel they a part of the performance. It is a wonderful touch that adds to the fun that is enjoyed by those in attendance. We are groundlings all.
Of course, what would a play be without the players? And the SpeakEasy has assembled a very talented cast to take the stage. With so many who deserve recognition I hate having to leave some out but space doesn’t allow for a full rundown. Just know they were all terrific.
George Olesky plays the young Will Shakespeare who, at the beginning of the play, is suffering from a bad case of writer’s block,”Shall I compare thee to a …something…”. Kit Marlowe (Eddie Shields) helps him get his mojo back and even coaches him in finding the words with which to woo Viola (Jennifer Ellis) who has been masquerading as a male in order to gain a part in the upcoming production of Romeo and Ethel, The Pirate’s Daughter. Fortunately, Kit is able to convince Will there is a better title for the work.
Many audience members will be familiar with the direction this all takes from having seen the movie. If not, it is fun to experience it for the first time. And, if you are, you will find this treatment of it to be fresh and enjoyable.
Olesky and Shields, who I at first thought were going to be too corny, settle into wonderful exchanges of banter that display the wit you would expect from these two poets. Their back and forth captures their rivalry, respect, and friendship. By the time of Marlowe’s murder you can empathize with Shakespeare’s pain and guilt at the loss of his friend.
Nancy E. Carroll as Queen Elizabeth has the gift of delivering very funny lines without cracking a smile. However, there is a twinkle in her eye that belies her stern countenance.
Ken Baltin takes on the role of the beleaguered theatre owner Henslowe who is struggling to stay one step ahead of losing an ear for falling behind in his payments to the loan shark Fennyman played by the very funny Remo Airaldi. Baltin’s expressions as he looks pleadingly to the audience are priceless.
As readers of this column know by now I consider Jennifer Ellis a remarkably gifted performer. In Shakespeare In Love she did not disappoint me. I have seen Ms Ellis performing going back to Urinetown at the Lyric Stage in 2005 and more recently in She Loves Me at the Greater Boston Stage Company as well as The Bridges of Madison County at the SpeakEasy. In a city that is so filled with talent (you get to see much it in this current production) Jennifer Ellis stands out as one who is destined for great things. My only concern is that one day we may lose her to the bright lights of Broadway, so I would strongly urge you to get to the Calderwood Pavillon and see for yourself what I am talking about before she moves on.
Ms Ellis radiates in the role of Viola. Her voice and her presence fill the stage.
Ms Ellis radiates in the role of Viola. Her voice and her presence fill the stage. There is also something very unique about the way lighting touches her face. I don’t know how to properly describe it, but it is amazing to see. Jennifer Ellis also carries a subtlety into her performances that allows her to always appear at ease and very natural.
So, forget about the cold weather and head over to the SpeakEasy stage for this delightful production. Oh, I forgot to mention one very important cast member, Spot the dog. As Nancy E. Carroll’s Queen Elizabeth says when encouraging Will on writing his next play “Remember, we very much like dogs”. You’ll very much like Spot. And yes, “Out damn Spot’ does make it into the dialog.
Shakespeare In Love
Through February 10th
The SpeakEasy Stage
Boston’s South End