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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Despite all its conceits, the first act is a joy. It provides an insider's perspective on the trials and tribulations that the Bard must have had in keeping control, maintaining artistic integrity; and more importantly keeping his company alive and performing in an era when disapproval from higher authorities could mean (forget loss of funding) imprisonment, torture and possibly death.
I mention the length of the play only in that during its numerous regional productions since it first appeared, it has been edited to play anywhere from two to three hours. While the two hour and forty minute production reviewed here efficiently staged and excellently acted, I prefered the much tighter, two -hour version done by the Manhattan Theatre Club in its first New York production in 2010.
The audience at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey comes pre-ordained to admire the illusions and postures of talented actors performing in the Shakespearean-era style in multiple roles. In this play, four of the six actors robe and disrobe with alacrity the fine 17th century-ied garb provided by Nikki Delhomme. More importantly, all the actors are in full flower and in especially in command of their roles as they speak their lines rapidly and act with displays of dash and swagger under the splendid creative authority of director Paul Mullins. They have also mastered their way around the terrific raised wooden platform setting designed by Michael Schweikhardt.
The always splendid James Michael Reilly is more so as an exuberant and exasperated Shakespeare, in this play more familiarly called Shag (a reduction of Shagspeare, one spelling of the name at that time.) Also a standout is the only female in the cast, Therese Barbato as Shag's unloved daughter Judith.
Shag tells his actors that they're to perform in a play commissioned by King James via his emissary Robert Cecil (Dominick Comperatore). It's taken from a poorly written existing text about a event known as the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
That plot, in which a band of terrorists had been thwarted in their plan to blow up London's Houses of Parliament with the hope of killing the king and family is to be the core of the new and much publicized and highly politicized play. For more plot details, check out Curtainup's reviews of the play in New York, in Los Angeles and DC .
The playwright has certainly given the guys enough hip/smart-alecky speak and trans-positioning activities to hold our attention a and keep us paradoxically amused. That includes the best beheading you'll ever hope to see.