Tuesday, January 30, 2018

SCR’s “Shakespeare In Love” Measures Up To Movie.

There’s a reason “Shakespeare In Love” the play, currently being mounted on the Segerstrom Stage at South Coast Repertory Theatre through Feb, 10th is the most produced play across the country; its based on the 1999 Oscar award winning movie that took away seven  honors.

It beat out “Saving Private Ryan” that year and had everyone buzzing at the time. It was delightful and enjoyable. Indeed, if you saw the movie, then you might be curious to see the play. Yours truly was and did.    

The question begs does an award -winning movie usually transition well to the stage? Marc Norman & Tom Stoppard who wrote the screenplay and Lee Hall (“Billy Elliot’) adapted it for the stage with music by Paddy Cunneen thought it would and ergo “Shakespeare in Love”, the play is, as mentioned earlier, the most produced play of the 2017-8 season. (Based on American Theatre Magazine)
Paul David Story as Shakespeare
Name recognition is always a winning argument for the  ‘yes’ column. Cleverness also bides well. Romantic comedy, light fare ‘clever’, along with entertainment appeal, charm and production values all get their just rewards. The play’s the thing and as a play it’s perfect for the stage.

All this and some fine acting add to the pleasure of watching the struggling young writer named William Shakespeare, (“Shall I compare thee to a…mummers play?”) pen his latest idea “Romeo and Ethel, The Pirates Daughter”.

Watching the shenaghanans that go on as the back -story plays out in aborted and chaotic attempts to mount a new comedy, demanded of him by the two producers (‘a month overdue to Henslowe’) to whom he owes money, pulls the audience in to the details of the daily strife of artists at work.
Carmella Corbett and Amelia White
Stacks of crumpled papers show that the Bard, as he would be later called, was having writers block. (“I’ve lost my gift, Kit”)

Enter Christopher ‘Kit’ Marlow (Corey Brill) throwing out ideas that young Will, will gladly incorporate into his plays. (“A summer’s day.” Start with something lovely, temperate and thoroughly trite.”)

Some think Marlow (“Jew of Malta”) actually collaborated with some of the works credited to Shakespeare. Collected papers shows that he did have a part in three of the “Henry VI” plays, And here’s where the play and plot in this particular story leave wiggle room for those inclined in favor of Marlow to either accept or deny.

Set in 1593 starving artist William Shakespeare owes money to dueling producers, Philip Henslowe (Bo Foxworth) and Fennyman (William Francis McGuire). On the surface this push to write anything that amounts to something is the driving force that has the young playwright frantic to get some words on paper. (“Shakespeare is writing as we speak”)

Everyone gets into the act; everyone has an opinion including the Queen (Elyse Mirto) who was thrilled with “Romeo and Juliet” by the time it finally found a home but she now looking for Shakespeare to write a comedy. “And tell Master Shakespeare, something more cheerful next time, for Twelfth Night.”
Paul David Story and Carmela Corbett
When Will suspects that his Romeo is a girl dressed as a young boy auditioning for the part in his new play he’s curious. During rehearsal he has to tutor the young boy (Ricky Abilez) playing Juliet to what a real kiss looks like. He takes young Viola thinking she is Tomas Kent, (“I would like to do a speech by a writer who commands the heat of player, sir.”) and bingo! Its magical, and let the chips fall where they may. “Tell me how you love her, Will. “Like a sickness and its cure together.”

The backstory juxtaposed with the love affair between young Will (Paul David Story) and Viola de Lesseps/Thomas Kent (Carmela Corbett) takes us to another place. The love interests chug along until both find the same attraction affecting them. Both Story and Corbett have some great chemistry going for them.

Following is the chase/competition between Will and Essex (“Is she obedient?”) as each, competing for the young Viola's hand, is willing to go out on a limb to seal their love for this Shakespearean beauty.

Shakespeare is willing to leave his wife and kids and Essex threatens to kill Shakespeare and hustle Viola away to America where he has land in Virginia. It’s all so soapy. Is it ‘an all’s well that ends well” story? It’s yours to decide.

Costume changes aside his Juliet is much more beautiful as a woman than she pretends to be as Romeo, with a slip of a moustache adorning her upper lip and a cap holding her beautiful blond locks. When women can’t be on stage practicing their craft, they do the next best thing; they disguise themselves as men.
Elyse Mirto with cast in background
As for Story, he is engaging and full of youthful energy, and that combined with her beauty and charm, is just what the doctor ordered; a beautifully matched couple.

The cast is a well tuned machine, with standouts Elyse Mirto as Queen Elizabeth I, Bo Foxworth, Nick Gabriel as Ned Alleyn and the strange stuttering Wabash played by Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper (recently seen as Lenny in “Of Mice and Men” North Coast Rep.) and of course those playing multiple roles (Adam Silver, Matthew Henderson, Aaron McGee and Alicia Erlinger) to name a few, deserve kudos.  

The musicians (music director Scott Waara and Cinnamon Dempsy) seen on the balcony provide wonderful background music. Ralph Funicello’s two- tiered set gives the players plenty of room to hide, escape and return as another.

Sammy Lee Smith’s lighting design is on target, Jeff Polunas sound design could use some amplification, Annie Loui’s choreography is lovely to watch, Susan Tsu’s period costumes are all eye catching adding to the overall appeal, and Ken Merckx fight direction made dueling scenes look a bit of a charade, but very well staged.

The question still: is it worth it to transition an award- winning movie into a play? The answer is in this case is yes. The cast at SCR without exception, especially the two leads, Story and Corbett, who have some chemistry going for them making the credibility of the otherwise comic antics in the background, look and feel right.
Paul David Story and Carmela Corbett
Director Marc Masterson goes all out on this one making his all inclusive cast, and there are many, with all the running around, swashbuckling and comedy look a piece of cake. Almost everything in this production says yes, transitioning works.

Think “The Lion in Winter”, “A Streetcar Named Desire”  “A Man For All Seasons” and “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” to name a few.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention Cinnamon Dempsey as Spot, the well -trained dog that the Queen required to perform (he has two major scenes) for “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”.

Everyone wants a piece of the action.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Feb.10th
Organization: South Coast Repertory Theatre
Phone: 714-708-5555
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, CA
Ticket Prices: Start at $23.00
Web: scr.org
Venue: Segerstrom Stage

Photo: Jordan Kubat and Tania Thompson


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