Theater review

An Unequivocal Hit

Seattle Rep’s Equivocation will leave you feeling "somehow improved"

By Laura Dannen December 3, 2009

Shagspeare (Heald, left) gets an earful from King James’s cronie Sir Robert Cecil (Jonathan Haugen) in Equivocation.

Equivocation is a bit like how I’d imagine William Shakespeare himself: smart, frisky, wickedly funny. With a script flush with inside jokes from Shakespeare’s catalogue and a superb cast fresh from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the three-hour play about a play hums along with a professionalism the Lord Chamberlain’s Men themselves would have envied.

In the vein of Shakespeare in Love, Bill Cain’s Equivocation goes behind the scenes at the Globe Theater, as the Bard struggles to keep his integrity when King James commissions him to write a play. To sell your soul, or not to sell your soul? That’s not even the half of it. The king demands a script giving the “true account” of a thwarted attempt on his life. Shakespeare gets to decide between writing propaganda (which eventually becomes Macbeth) or death. You don’t envy the man.

Boston Legal‘s Anthony Heald delivers an understated performance as William “Shagspeare” (Cain’s favorite spelling), playing the conflicted playwright with more furrowed brow than arm-raising exasperation. But it’s the high energy of the ensemble and creative direction by Bill Rauch that carry this play until that damned spot comes out.

The show is slated for a run Off-Broadway, but will be at Seattle Repertory Theatre through December 13. To borrow a line from Bill Cain, you’ll leave “unchanged, but feeling somehow improved.” Don’t miss it.

(Note: On the night I saw this, there was a terrible beeping sound that lasted until intermission. Staff blamed it on interference from someone’s hearing aid, so they asked everyone on the right side of the theater to turn their aides off. Awkward. The show went on, and the actors didn’t flinch.)

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