Bob Goepfert Reviews "Shakespeare In Love" At Capital Rep

Apr 15, 2019

The production of “Shakespeare in Love,” which is at Capital Repertory Theatre, Albany through May 12, is a pleasing production. It has a delightful story that is well acted and impressively directed. It’s almost impossible to leave the production and not feel better than when you walked in.   

The play is a faithful adaptation of the 1998 film written by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman. Perhaps because Stoppard is a theater god, who has written some of the smartest plays over the past 50-years, the material has both humor and intelligence.

For those not familiar with the film, a young William Shakespeare is having a writer’s block.  Hs newest play “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter” is not going well.  After he discovers the male actor who is playing Ethel is actually a female - which breaks the rule that no females are allowed on stage - both his love life and his creativity take a turn for the positive.

As Shakespeare’s affection for Viola deepens, the love between a poor poet and a wealthy woman grows and she becomes his muse.  Their life experiences, including a late night spent wooing on a balcony, find their way into Will’s play now called “Romeo and Juliet.”

It’s charming fun for anyone with the slightest knowledge of Shakespeare’s writing and an enjoyable story for anyone who never heard of him, but who loves a romance.

Indeed, it is the love story between Will and Viola that drives the play and wins the heart of the audience.  Christian Ryan is an awkward Shakespeare.  He is self-assured about his status as a gifted writer, but uncertain as a romantic figure.  Ryan grows Will throughout the play - both as a man and a writer.

As Viola, Jenny Strassburg is a sincere woman who knows what she wants and is a strong enough person to break tradition to achieve her desires.  Yet she knows the society in which she lives - which makes her a realist.  It is understandable why the woman could be the inspiration for two of Shakespeare’s memorable women.

The two are surrounded by a herd of 22 supporting characters.  To everyone’s credit, each performer is excellent and immediately establishes a character with an identifying trait and personality.  But, except for a handful, few add to the story.  Most work can be categorized as cameo appearances.

Indeed, if it were not for the staging mastery of director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, the large cast might seem clumsy.  Instead, they form lovely stage pictures and move unobtrusively on, off and about the stage.  As written, they are unnecessary but at Capital Rep, thanks to Mancinelli-Cahill they rarely seem extraneous.

Actually, they are even useful as they move scenery quickly and efficiently helping the flow of the scenes.   The early scenes are many and choppy, but rarely do they interfere with the pace of the play.  Once the play finds its footing it moves along, at least until the final scenes where it drags, as we get to see the death scenes of “Romeo and Juliet.”

Though many supporting roles are merely background or exist for color, a few make happy contributions.   Making a vivid impression is David Kenner as Lord Wessex, the villain of the piece.  Also very good are Laurie O’Brian as Queen Elizabeth I, Kevin Craig West as a confident Kit (Christopher) Marlowe, John Romeo as the comical producer Fennyman and David Girard as the boastful actor Richard Burbage.   

Adding to the magic of the work is the music composed by Paddy Cunneen and performed by onstage musicians and sung by members of the cast.  The open set by Lawrence F.  Moten III is ideal for the action and costumes by Evan Prizant are innovative without being distracting.  Joseph Travers fight direction adds excitement to the proceedings.

“Shakespeare in Love” is fun and continues through May 12.  For tickets and schedule information at 518-445-7469 or  capitalrep.com

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

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