Arena Stage EquivocationBy Rachael Murray • Dec 1st, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Arena Stage-Kreeger, Washington DC
Through January 1st, 2012
3:00 with 15 minute intermission
$55-$70 + fees
Reviewed November 28th, 2011
Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s ensemble-driven production of Equivocation with some friendly business dealings between a politician and an artist; the lines between the two begin to blur over the course of this thoughtful production. It’s the beginning of the sixteenth century in King James-era London. Robert Cecil, the First Earl of Salisbury, commissions William Shagspeare to write a play about the English government’s official account of the recent Gunpowder Plot. As Shagspeare delves deeper into the circumstances of the plot and attempts to bring it to life on stage, he begins to see what might lie beneath Cecil’s request. This production at Arena Stage is a well-crafted window into one possible version of history.
Director Bill Rauch handles this beast of a script quite well. Rauch chooses to infuse a charmingly self-referential script with even more self-referential vision. Part of the fun the playwright (Bill Cain) imparts in Equivocation is the conscious dramatic irony of statements from the Globe company and others about Shag/kespeare. The style of Shakespeare is acknowledged beautifully. Just as the players once spoke directly to the Groundlings, this ensemble also breaks the fourth wall in clever almost-asides to the audience. Rauch handles this beautifully, and delves even further into examining the act of acting (or existing) itself in a meditative way that borders on Brechtian.
The actors are, in a word, excellent. These are good actors with good material who know how to work it. The men in the cast transform near-effortlessly into each new character. Both Jonathan Haugen and John Tufts create particularly memorable characters in Robert Cecil and King James, respectfully. Anthony Heald does a fine job of fleshing out William Shakespeare (or Shag, short for “Shagspeare” in this play), a figure that is part myth. Heald brings out the humanity behind the literary genius.
The scenic design (Christopher Acebo) draws inspiration from the Globe Theatre; this Globe, however, is pared down and streamlined in order to serve as a unit set for multiple locales. Lighting (Christopher Akerlind) and Sound (Andre Pluess) work seamlessly together as the external chaos that begins to encroach upon the Globe. It is almost as if this theater is a church in which one can claim refuge from the corrupt goings-on outside. The costumes (Deborah M. Dryden) are suitable in distinguishing the multiple characters played by each actor.
Arena Stage’s presentation of Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Equivocation is the kind of theatre that offers a bang for the buck. This is a show that sticks with you well beyond the three-hour run time. Equivocation shows a depth and a humor that needs to be experienced instead of read about.
From The Director
“Equivocation is one of only a handful of times in my life as a director when I have read a new play where my heart started to pump faster, and I become obsessed with serving the playwright’s vision by directing the play. Bill Cain chronicles a historical episode, but his play is completely contemporary in its language and its exploration of the intersection of politics, religion and art.”
–October 18, 2011 Arena Stage Media Release
Photos are from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2009 production of Equivocation.
Photos by Jenny Graham
- Shag: Anthony Heald
- Nate: Jonathan Haugen
- Sharpe: John Tufts
- Richard: Richard Elmore
- Armin: Gregory Linington
- Judith: Christine Albright
- Playwright: Bill Cain
- Director: Bill Rauch
- Set Designer: Christopher Acebo
- Costume Designer: Deborah M. Dryden
- Lighting Designer: Christopher Akerlind
- Composer and Sound Designer: Andre Pluess
- Dramaturgs: Lue Morgan Douthit, Barry Kraft
- Movement Directors: John Sipes, U. Jonathan Toppo
- Voice and Text Director: Rebecca Clark Carey
- Stage Manager: Randall K. Lum
- Asst. Stage Manager: Mandy Younger
Disclaimer: Arena Stage provided a complimentary media ticket to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/7424.
Rachael Murray is an actor, director, and teaching artist. She is a Virginia Tech alumnus with a Bachelor's of Arts in English and Theatre Arts. A relative newcomer to the DC Metro area, Rachael has participated as both an actor and director in a variety of projects at Virginia Tech and has worked as a teaching artist with Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, New York.