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The Book of Will

a Comedy/Drama
by Lauren Gunderson

COMPANY : Theatrical Outfit [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Balzer Theatre @ Herren's [WEBSITE]
ID# 5319

SHOWING : August 15, 2018 - September 09, 2018



1619-1623. London and Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Will Shakespeare is dead, and his legacy depends on a circle of devoted writers, actors, and friends. When a fishy Hamlet plays fast and loose nearby, the cohorts scramble to keep the Bard’s true words from fading into obscurity. The solution? A definitive collection of his plays. But to print it, they must overcome a ruthless publisher, an inebriated poet, and their own ticking mortality. Atlanta native Lauren Gunderson unfurls her trademark humor and smarts in this love letter to theatre’s timeless superstar.

Winner of the 2018 Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award

Director David Crowe
Ed Knight, Isaac Jaggard Kyle Brumley
Rebecca Heminges, Anne Hathaway Shakespe Elisa Carlson
Elizabeth Condell, Emilia Bassano Lanier Suehyla El-Attar
Ralph Crane, Francisco Paul Hester
John Heminges Tom Key
Alice Heminges, Susannah Shakespeare Eliana Marianes
Richard Burbage, William Jaggard Jeff McKerley
Ben Jonson, Sir Edward Dering Bill Murphey
Henry Condell Doyle Reynolds
Marcus, Boy Hamlet, Bernardo Ryan Vo
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To Will or Not to Will
by playgoer
Sunday, August 19, 2018
Lauren Gunderson’s "The Book of Will" documents the creation of the first folio of Shakespeare’s collected plays, following his death and that of Richard Burbage, the most renowned actor in the plays of Shakespeare. The scripts have to be cobbled together from various sources, and the play takes us from the initial idea of the collected works to the completion of printing.

As in all of Ms. Gunderson’s historical works, there’s a lot of factual underpinning that supports the workings of the plot. There’s some speculation too, as in the identification of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady. With liberal quotations from Shakespeare’s plays and sometimes dense dialogue, it’s a play that requires attention, but rewards it with rich entertainment.

The massive set by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay features three levels: the floor, where most of the action takes place; small platforms stage left (office) and right (pub entrance) and a stage with curtains up center, all raised up about three feet; and a full top level filled with props and lanterns. The floor of the stage is painted with wood planks, overlaid with a parchment-colored section containing blurred handwritten text. With Mary Parker’s lighting design that has illumination coming from all sorts of different directions and that casts shadows and bright spots, the floor of the stage doesn’t really "read."

The physical production is impressive, starting with that massive set. Emmie Tuttle’s costumes reflect the time period beautifully, and Dan Bauman’s sound design adds period-sounding music for some scene changes (probably to accommodate costume changes; the changing of set pieces is done with alacrity). Kathryn Muse’s props add to the sumptuous yet rustic charm of the visuals.

David Crowe’s staging keeps the action moving along, but doesn’t always make the script come to life. There are two scenes in the script that cut back and forth quickly between two simultaneous sets of action -- in one case, between shadows of a stage production of the start of "Hamlet" and dialogue that mimics some of its speech; in the other, when two different people are approached for funding of the publication. These moments appear to be stylization for the sake of stylization and come across as awkward. It’s also awkward when the stage with curtains is used to represent a bedroom. The final moments of the play, however, are magical, as recorded snippets of Shakespeare’s lines are mirrored in shadows on the stage curtains and actors on the top level pantomiming iconic moments from the plays.

Performances are fine throughout. Ryan Vo does a nice job of delineating the different characters he plays, and Paul Hester succeeds in playing a character well beyond his years and making it entirely different from more age-appropriate characters. Doyle Reynolds and Tom Key, as the two main characters in the story, both make strong impressions, as do Suehyla El-Attar and Elisa Carlson as their wives (and as other characters). William S. Murphey makes Ben Jonson a memorable personality, and Jeff McKerley (a last-minute cast addition) does splendid work in two dissimilar roles. Kyle Brumley enchants as the smitten Isaac Jaggard, and Eliana Marianes is spell-binding as the object of his attentions, making her every movement and reaction noteworthy for being entirely in character and yet fresh and unexpected.

Theatrical Outfit’s "The Book of Will" will attract Gunderson fans as well as Shakespeare fans, so it’s likely in for a successful run. With impressive production values and thoroughly professional onstage talent, it’s a worthy addition to Ms. Gunderson’s canon of work produced in Atlanta. Is it my favorite? No. But it might be yours. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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