By Woody Weingarten
The Novato Theatre Company has chosen to thrust us into a time machine.
At the turn of the 21st Century, now disgraced Harvey Weinstein — who almost single-handedly was responsible for a major spurt in #metoo movement affiliations protesting sexual abuse — bullied Academy Award voters enough so the film he’d produced, Shakespeare in Love, won 12 Oscars.
Through June 11 of this year, a play that was based on the film and had opened in London’s West End in 2014 is likely to impress and amuse NTC audiences.
Shakespeare in Love is an ambitious, rib-tickling show (with a few serious soliloquies) that yanks us back to the 1590s (with plenteous references to Verona and Stratford) when women were forbidden by law to be actors. That detail, of course, doesn’t stop Viola De Lesseps (adroitly portrayed by Rachel Kaiulani Kennealy with a gamut of emotions) as she falls for a struggling young playwright, Will Shakespeare, and sidesteps the edict by dressing like a man.
In the process she becomes his muse and lover, leading him to turn an unwritten comedy, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter, into a polished tragedy titled Romeo and Juliet.
Welcome to comedic Gender-Bending 101 — 2023 style, with the 20-member cast featuring not only women clad as men but men in drag as well. It would be remiss at this juncture, not incidentally, to not laud time-appropriate costuming by Jody Branham, who scoured the Bay Area to borrow the necessary garb.
Shakespeare in Love toys not only with identify but with the inner mis-workings of theatrical productions (riddled with a running gag about playwriting that “It’s a mystery”). The community players manage to perfectly ham up almost everything.
Marilyn Izdebski, a tireless retiree, has produced a show that has almost too many praiseworthy participants for a reviewer to handle, beginning with co-directors Nic Moore and Gillian Eichenberger, who jointly ensure that the two-hour presentation feels shorter than that.
Chemistry between Rachel Kaiulani Kennealy’s frisky Viola and Michael Girts’ boyish, rubbery visaged Will is a marvel to witness.
Also deserving plaudits for their farcical work are Kim Bromley, whose squeaky-voiced flightiness is ideal as Viola’s nurse confidant; Michel Benton Harris, whose macho bravado is exquisite as Christopher (Kit) Marlowe, Will’s friend and rival; Michele Sanner, who turns the first Queen Elizabeth into a haughty, pasty-faced, occasionally enlightened ruler; Tomás Fierro, who embodies Richard Burbage as a selfish, volatile, bombastic benefactor; and the definitive audience favorite, fifth-grader Alexa Heftye, wildly woofing away as Spot the Dog.
The production, unfortunately, is hampered by players not being mic’d and some unable to project sufficiently to be heard easily. Also, the music (even when soft) sometimes drowns out dialogue.
In contrast, check out the marvelous mock aristocratic dancing (and joyous stomping) choreographed by Stephen Beecroft, the copious and rapid costume changes, and a bit of swashbuckling swordplay — not to mention the out-of-context and out-of-the-box references to other plays by the Bard (highlighted by “Out, out, damned spot,” an order directed at the pooch).
Although some main characters have a real place in British history, this comedy by Lee Hall (an adaptation of Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s screenplay) injects a playful wink hither and a mischievous wink yon.
As a result, the NTC’s Shakespeare in Love production deserves at least four winks, er, stars.
ASR Senior Contributor Woody Weingarten has decades of experience writing arts and entertainment reviews and features. A member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, he is the author of three books, The Roving I; Grampy and His Fairyzona Playmates; and Rollercoaster: How a Man Can Survive His Partner’s Breast Cancer. Contact: email@example.com or https://woodyweingarten.com or http://www.vitalitypress.com/
|Shakespeare in Love
|Nic Moore and Gillian Eichenberger
|Novato Theater Company
|Through June 11th
|Novato Theater Company
5420 Nave Drive, Novato 94949
|$15 – $27
|Max in each category is 5/5
|Aisle Seat Review PICK?