Reviewed by Kevin T McEneaney
The play Shakespeare in Love by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard at the Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck will drive Shakespeare scholars to the nearest bar for five or six drinks: the less one knows about Shakespeare, the more one will enjoy this comedic version of the origin of Romeo & Juliet which parades a collage of the Bard’s most famous lines amid a plot that is too silly to take seriously, yet the antics will plant a smile on your face.
The plot of the two-and-a-half hour production, which seems to run in half that time, is much too long to summarize, yet one can read the plot at this link. Wendell Scherer as the poet-blocked Bard in love delivers an affable spontaneity to the role while Andy Crispell as Henslowe appears to be the living embodiment of the play’s goofy ambiance. Cassiopeia Outtulich plays the role of inhabiting two different sexual identities with convincing flair and impish appeal.
Michael Risio as the debonair Kit Marlowe plays mercurial Kit with intimate panache. David Foster as the great actor Richard Burbage appears as a commanding actor of great stature, while Frank McGinnis as Mercutio astonishes like a lightning bolt.
Jodi Satriani with her comic arm waving as the Nurse of Shakespeare’s momentary infatuation is a delightful comic hoot. Diana DiGrandi augustly impersonates the royal whimsy of Queen Elizabeth I. Max Moughan as the sardonic, revengeful, aspiring playwright John Webster effectively thrusts the shiv. (Obviously, a Tom Stoppard touch!)
Kevin McCarthy as Fennyman incarnates the robust voice of a narrow narcissist while Justin Doro does a masterful job as the cartoon villain Lord Wessex satiated with lust, greed, and murder. The confused prancing poodle in the play was a hit with the audience, yet it was the improvising immediacy of Wendell Scherer as the Bard who carried the burden of the play as if his many and varied lines were a mere momentary inspiration.
This production offered the most extravagant and sumptuous staging that the Center has ever offered with a cast of 27 wit some actors playing two roles. There was a great deal of communal folk dancing without a hitch and the costumes were a sumptuous feast. There are amusing jokes about mis-behaving actors as well as stage fright.
Kudos to Director Thomas Netter for the snappy pacing of a complex production (as well as Assistant Director Amy LeBlanc). And applause for Crystal Carolan as Stage Manager for the smooth rounds of stage props that appeared like a magic trick. (I once staged managed a Brian Friel play and have some idea of the challenge.)
This play is a comic hi-jinks inversion of Shakespeare’s tragedy: and all is well as it ends well. This production runs weekends through May 8th. For more information or tickets see: https://www.centerforperformingarts.org/