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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Bill Cain has gathered all these elements into an overlong, sometimes confusing, funny confection on the stage of the Geffen Playhouse. The cast is dressed in modern clothes, which underscores the timelessness of Cain's concept.
Sharpe (Patrick J. Adams), or Robert Cecil, the crippled villain of the piece, assigns Shag or Shakespeare (Joe Spano) to write a propaganda piece for the government. Shag and his crew Richard (Harry Groener), Armin (Brian Henderson) and Nate (Connor Trinneer) wrestle with this concept, which turns out to be the Gunpowder Plot. Scenes from the play are acted, including the gory torture of Thomas Wintour. The second act concedes Macbeth as the play of choice.
A subplot involves Judith (Troian Bellisario), Shakespeare's daughter and the survivor of twins. Shakespeare mourns the loss of her dead brother so guiltily that he can't look at her. A rehearsal of King Lear's Mad Scene on the stormy heath with the cast in costume and later of Macbeth adds versatility and color to the play, as well as reminding us whose plays we're talking about. You'll never see Macbeth's witches again without remembering Wee Jamie's supernatualism.
Shakespeare is conflicted but it's the conflict of a modern man. In today's conundrums, he writhes against an unplayable script. He lets himself be coerced by the threat of pain. Cain hasn't written an analysis of Shakespeare's plays. They're the generalization which marks us all.
David Esbjornson has done a superb directing job, fleshing out Cain's script with intuitive flashes of his own. He also designed the simple set.
The cast except for Shag and Judith play multiple roles. Especially memorable is Patrick J. Adams who etches Sharpe, Tom Wintour and a comical turn as James I with searing flair. Joe Spano is superb as Shag, whom he plays with the naturalism that marks the invisible man. When the play is over, it's Spano's performance that sticks in your mind. He's ably supported by the impressive Harry Groener who, as Richard, the company's leading man, is vain, charismatic and Shag's best friend. He also plays the priest Garnet. Troian Bellisario is Judith, who hangs around her father longing for a soft word and waspish in her own right. Brian Henderson as Armin and Conor Trinneer as Nate handle the supporting roles with perception and flair.
So in the end, the priest lied, Macbeth is performed and a disillusioned Shakespeare's career winds down. His daughter, cynic that she is, has the last word. Equivocation is not only a slyly drawn picture of Shakespeare's London. It's also a cautionary tale for our time.