.‘Shakespeare in Love’ at Novato Theater Company

Bill in Bliss

Shakespeare is hard. Shakespearean adaptations which use the Elizabethan language without the helpful context of the plot are arguably harder. Novato Theater Company faces that challenge with the last play of their season, Shakespeare in Love. The show runs in Novato through June 11.

For those who haven’t seen the Oscar-winning movie, the plot is simple. William Shakespeare (a very funny Michael Girts) is trying to write a newly commissioned work titled Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter. He meets and falls in love with the rich Viola de Lesseps (Rachel Kaiulani Kennealy), who is pretending to be a boy to be able to be an actor. Along the way to love and loss are mistaken identity, a vendetta, an unpaid debt, silly hats, sword fights, brothels, shipwrecks, the queen of England and a dog. Well, it’s a simple plot for Shakespeare.

NTC has shrewdly paired new director Nic Moore with seasoned director Gillian Eichenberger. Co-directors are often a good way to introduce new talent to the responsibilities, stress and expectations of directing.

The directors have done an excellent job of casting actors that more closely represent the world outside their theater’s doors and more closely resemble the cosmopolitan citizens of Elizabethan England, more so than what is normally seen on local stages.

They are also to be commended for giving young actors much-needed access to veteran actors, resulting in Adonis Reyes and Grisha Driscoll’s nuanced, engaging performances and Alexa Heftye’s adorable Wabash.

Dual directors can, as this production does, result in an uneven play. Some performances are very strong. Kim Bromley’s Nurse is consistently funny. Michael B. Harris’ Marlowe is a well-thought-out take on a familiar character, and Arup Chakrabarti’s Ned Allen manages to balance the arrogance and artistry of the character with grace.

But others, like Michele Sanner Vargas’ lower-status Queen Elizabeth, don’t quite work. This isn’t for a lack of talent. All the choices are bold, show commitment to the characters and could have worked, given more attention.

This lack of attention appears in all aspects of the production. The minimalist set by Michael Walraven is well executed, but no one seemed to realize Elizabethan dresses weren’t meant to sit on six inch steps. Similarly, the costumes by Jody Branham are gorgeously authentic, except for when they aren’t, such as certain fake boot cuffs.

Overall, this is a funny, feel-good two-hours of on-stage traffic. It’s only a pity that there weren’t clearer traffic signals.

’Shakespeare in Love’ runs through June 11 at the Novato Theater Company, 5420 Nave Dr., Ste. C, Novato. Fri & Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm. $15–$27. 415.883.4498. Masking is strongly recommended. novatotheatercompany.org.


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