SHOTGUN PLAYERS INVESTIGATE “GOD’S PLOT”, EARLY AMERICAN THEATRE, AND REVOLUTION WITH AN ABUNDANCE OF SILLY FUN

(Charles Kruger)

This reviewer is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

“God’s Plot” written and directed by Mark Jackson, produced by Joe Mallon, Sue Trowbridge and Lynn MacDonald for Shotgun Players. Set: Nina Ball. Lighting: Heather Basarab. Costumes: Christine Crook. Composer: Daveen DiGiacomo. Technical Director: Anne Kendall. Stage Manager: Armanda-Louise Krieger. Assistant Stage Manager: Riley Kveton. Shotgun Players Founding Artistic Director: Patrick Dooley.

Thomas Fowkes: Daniel Bruno. Constance Pore: Fontana Butterfield. Capt. Edmond Pore: Kevin Clarke. Phillip Howard: Will Hand. William Darby: Carl Holvick-Thomas. Tryal Pore: Juliana Lustenader. John Fawsett: Davie Maier. Edward Martin/Maj. Cross: John Mercer. Cornelius Watkins: Anthony Nemirovsky. Daniel Prichard: Joe Salazar.

Musicians: Travis Kindred (Bass). Josh Pollock (Banjo).

Shotgun Players crowd-pleasing production of “God’s Plot” is full of expert performances and good fun, but it doesn’t leave you with much to think about. This is a shame, given its revolutionary themes and many tie-ins to current events. It could have been so much more. But still, it is undeniably a good time at the theatre.

Playwright and director Mark Jackson sets out to imaginatively recreate the circumstances of the first ever play to be produced in the future USA (in 1665): “Ye Bare and Ye Cubb”, an anti-crown political satire. In a program note, Jackson correctly notes that the play and the circumstances of its production “contained nearly all the seeds of our national character”. He cites religious conflict, economics, land fraud, false identity, entrepreneurialism, community and a spirit of independence.

Will Hand, Juliana Lustenader and Anthony Nemirovsky in "God's Plot" produced by The Shotgun Players at The Ashby Stage in Berkeley. Photo Credit: Pak Han

In execution, however, Jackson’s script merely skirts these deeper issues in favor of a goofy vaudeville which is amusing in its own right. At times, the production seems to be confused between goofiness and a serious recreation of Puritan Virginia. A firm commitment one way or the other would serve the play well.

But enough quibbling. As it is, “God’s Plot” is a lot of fun. Carl Holvick-Thomas is a sexy charmer as actor/playwright William Darby. Pretty Juliana Lustenader as his love-interest Tryal Pore, projects a keen intelligence and sings with enthusiasm. Will Hand and Anthony Nemirovsky are a hoot as rustic actors invoking the Shakespearean spirit of “A Midsummer Nights Dream”. (Audience members familiar with that play will enjoy the sly references and direct quotes that have been slipped into the script.) Indeed, theatrical in-jokes of all sorts abound.

John Mercer draws plenty of laughter in the dual roles of a not-very-peaceful Quaker, Edward Martin, and British representative Major Cross.

It cannot be doubted that “God’s Plot” is a crowd pleaser, and many critics have waxed enthusiastic. For myself, I will have to temper my enthusiasm on the ground that the playwright has failed to effectively address the deeper themes which the material raises and takes an easier path with the in-jokes and goofiness.

Nina Ball‘s outstanding design, evoking the interior of a Puritan church and incorporating many instances of theatrical magic, deserves a shout out.

Will you enjoy yourself at “God’s Plot”? You bet!

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