by Otto Coelho
The First Folio. Among Shakespearean scholars, it is spoken of with particular reverence. The average theatregoer assumes that the scripts of Shakespeare’s work were simply gathered together from the producing company–The King’s Men (previously The Lord Chamberlain’s Men), then printed as a collection. Easy. Quick. No muss, no fuss.
It couldn’t be further from the truth.
Lauren Gunderson’s “The Book of Will” takes on the tale of the creation of the First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s works and tells it well. Based on actual historical records and taking a bit of dramatic license here and there, the play begins three years after Shakespeare’s death. After seeing a particularly bad, pirated version of Hamlet, and the death of Shakespeare’s leading actor Richard Burbage, Shakespeare’s remaining contemporaries fear that Shakespeare’s words will soon be lost.. They set about to cobble together via a sparse collection of actor’s sides, along with their own memories, a volume that ensures that Shakespeare’s language and poetry will remain for future generations.
Michael Rhone and Anthony Silk lead the production as Henry Condell and John Heminges, members of The King’s Men who set upon the long effort to get the Folio printed. But it is their wives–Carla Befera and Eiko Yamamoto (as Rebecca Heminges and Elizabeth Condell, respectively) who offer more polished performances. Rebecca is the doubtful John’s strength, and it is her steady and insistent urging that gets the Folio project going. Befera plays Rebecca with the requisite strength, mixed with a great deal of love and support for her man. Yamamoto’s Elizabeth is the perfect combination of support and playfulness to help her Henry get the job done.
As Alice Heminges, Lauren D’Ambrosio shines as the Heminges’ eldest daughter, bartender, and bouncer. She offers a wonderfully nuanced performance, whether she is clearing disrespectful patrons out of her father’s tap house, repelling the awkward advances of Shakespeare’s writing rival Ben Jonson (Jason Morley), or falling for the handsome Issac Jaggard (Steve Alhoff in a terrific standout performance). John Musgrave takes a nice turn as Richard Burbage, but is more compelling as printer William Jaggard. Taking on three different roles is the delightful Sara Dean, who shines most brightly as Emilia Bassano Lanier–the “Dark Lady of the Sonnets.” Gwendolyne Wagner is lovely as the company scribe Ralph Crane, but is even better as Shakespeare’s widow, Anne.
Director Bruce McLeod leads his actors well through a difficult text, although it is the women’s performances which shine the brightest. Playwright Gunderson has said that she felt it was vital to have the voices of women in the story, so perhaps that is to be expected.
Yusuko Soi’s simple set is effective. Lisa Roman’s costumes were lovely, but having some actors in modern black dress and others in Elizabethan costumes was somewhat jarring.
The Book of Will continues at the Lohman Theatre through November 21. For further information click here.
Rating: **1/2 (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)
“The Book of Will” by Lauren Gunderson. Produced by Foothill College Theatre Arts. Director: Bruce McLeod. Scenic Designer: Yosuke Soi. Costume Designer: Lisa Rozman. Lighting Designer: Lawrence Reekie. Sound Designer: Max Stanylov. Properties Designer: Patricia Biello. Projection Designer: Steven Gerlach.
Henry Condell: Michael Rhone. John Heminges: Anthony Silk. Rebecca Heminges: Carla Befera. Alice Heminges: Lauren D’Ambrosio. Elizabeth Condell: Eiko Yamamoto Emilia Bassano Lanier, Ed Knight, Sir Edward Dering: Sara K. Dean. Anne Hathaway Shakespeare, Ralph Crane: Gwendolyne Wagner. Richard Burbage, William Jaggard: John Musgrave. Issac Jaggard: Steve Alhoff. Ben Jonson: Jason Morley. Boy Hamlet, Marcus, Ensemble: Olivia Spreen. Compositor, Ensemble: Giovanni Constantino. Susanna Shakespeare, Ensemble Sydney Harmon. Understudy for Richard Burbage, William Jaggard: Leslie Newport. Understudy for Ensemble: Louie T. Leon III