Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Shakespeare in Love
The other notable thing is that a very fine director, Suki Peters, is running the show: notable because it doesn't quite work, and up to now everything I've seen her direct has been exemplary. As Shakespeare in Love's theater manager Hensley says, in another context, over and over, "no one understands it, it's a mystery."
I've only seen the 1998 movie once, in its original release twenty-one years ago. Yet, somehow, it seems a well-trodden path: a stage-struck young woman gets sucked into a sort of Elizabethan-era version of 42nd Street. (Okay, it's actually the premiere of Romeo and Juliet and it's illegal for women to be on stage in Shakespeare's time, which should create tension, but somehow does not in this case.) Back in '98, with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman, the movie came off magically. The live-on-stage version is minimally re-written by Lee Hall: a forbidden, back-stage romance, originally made for film, finally adapted for the stage.
The good news is that the actors actually do get paid in this day and age, as opposed to Shakespeare's time. In (more or less) descending order, here's who ought to get the most from the gate this time out. Whit Reichert, who is 100% in tune with the needs of the property and treats it just as lightly as it deserves. As theater owner Henslowe, Reichert brings with him his own internal locus of tension, which is frequently missing from the rest of the production. Next in terms of finding a successful tone is Wendy Renee Greenwood as Queen Elizabeth, whose gimlet eye proves to be the perfect lens to watch it all unfolding. And Ted Drury is the nobleman who brusquely forces that stage-struck young woman into marriage. Paradoxically, Spencer Sickmann as Christopher Marlowe is also on this "best of" listparadoxically, because he's the only one in this rank whose character is actually having a good time of it.
The cast is full of splendid performers, but the tension of the original film has mostly vanished. Gwendolyn Wotawa as Viola and Aaron Dodd as Shakespeare are dragged down very quickly by a severe case of "premature heartbreak syndrome," inexplicably foreshadowing the play's doomed romance early on and the whole way through. It's not that Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes were all that great in the movie, but somehow, somethingchemistry, or a gleeful jungle fever between the two leads?has been lost in translation. The "emotional high points" between the lovers on stage at the Grandel should be significantly higher, and more frequent. As it stands now, the two approach each other as warily as volunteer patients at the local school of dentistry.
The rest of the cast is blithely funny and delightfully glowering, including the dean of local actors, Joneal Joplin. These supporting players, at least, all seems to know it's only midsummer madness (here on the cusp of autumn).
Insight Theatre Company's Shakespeare in Love, through September 15, 2019, at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square (between the Fabulous Fox Theatre and Powell Symphony Hall), St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.insighttheatrecompany.com
* Denotes Member, Actors Equity Association