Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Equivocation - Seattle Repertory Theatre


Seattle Repertory Theatre

November 18 – December 13, 2009

Tickets and Information

The play opens with the question we ask ourselves every day: “Why me?” In this case, the questioner is a man named Shag—short for Shagspear, yes, William. He is standing in the office of Sir Robert Cecil, the man who put the Scottish King James I on the throne of England, and who is now commissioning William Shag to write a play: The True History of the Powder Plot. Through protests that he doesn’t write propaganda or current events, and that his “cooperative venture” of a theater company won’t vote to do it, Shag accepts the money with raging doubts as to the possibility that the play can be written at all.

Shag’s doubts lead him on a quest to find the truth behind the true history of the Powder Plot which leads him to innumerable questions as to the loyalty and faith of his dearest friends and what price he is willing to pay to speak the truth.

The Cast of Equivocation. Photo by Jenny Graham, 2009.

Bill Cain’s script is tightly written, based solidly on fact (or at least well documented conjecture) without being a slave to the time period. Cain’s dialogue never tries to be Elizabethan, but flows seamlessly from modern dialogue to Shakespeare’s own words.

Four of the six actors play multiple roles, while Anthony Heald and Christine Albright anchor the play as Shag and his dark-minded daughter Judith. The other four men (Richard Elmore, Jonathan Haugen, John Tufts, and Gregory Linington) play actors in Shag’s company, as well as Cecil, King James, accused traitors and other characters of the story. They continuously shift from one character to the next with no pretense, creating a complete world in which all characters can exist in the bodies of six actors. When the company performs their final play for King James, John Tufts takes this shifting to a new level, portraying both the king and a player within the performance, jumping from throne to stage with naught but a crown and a flick of his cape to mark the change.

Director Bill Rauch brought this production to us fresh from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. His work with Cain’s text and the expertise on the stage presented to him is, without a doubt, fantastic. There are, as with most productions, some elements of forced theatricality that can detract from the skill on display. However, overall, Rauch’s direction is taut enough for such a precise and delicate piece while still leaving room for the considerable humor throughout the play.

In regards to the elements of design, Christopher Akerlind’s lighting design not only shines out among the rest for its sharpness, but also gets special recognition as the only design element to be native to Seattle for this production. The Ashland designers who accompanied this production, transplanted from the Festival, similarly are among the top of their fields and do not disappoint.

Equivocation has obvious, and occasionally explicit, parallels to our own time, in themes of torture, terrorism, sociopolitical dealings and the conflation of religion and politics.

However, the play gets us thinking about our time without ever taking us out of the 17th century in England. It is a period play that is surprisingly modern, and like Shakespeare’s own work, discusses a specific time period and is, at the same time, timeless.

Review by Kenna Kettrick & Andrew J Perez

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