Shakespeare in Love

by Joe Siegel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday September 4, 2018

Dillon Medina and Alison Russo in "Shakespeare in Love" at the Burbage Theatre Company through September 16.
Dillon Medina and Alison Russo in "Shakespeare in Love" at the Burbage Theatre Company through September 16.  

"Shakespeare in Love," Burbage Theatre Company's 2018-2019 season opener, is a creative triumph.

This past year has featured several stellar adaptations of Shakespeare's works, including "As You Like It," "Othello," "Much Ado About Nothing," and Burbage's "Twelfth Night."

Lee Hall adapted Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard's Oscar-winning screenplay for the stage, which pokes good-natured fun at the eccentricities of actors as well as the creative process of writers. We see wannabe actors giving dismal recitations of dialogue as well as a duel to the death over one of Shakespeare's scripts.

Director Jeff Church (appearing as playwright Christopher Marlowe) stages a witty, intelligent, and heartfelt entertainment which pays affectionate tribute to one of the most famous storytellers.

Dillon Medina, who appeared in "Twelfth Night," exhibits tremendous charm as "Will" Shakespeare, who is suffering from writers block when the play begins. Will is also an actor and he seems rudderless. His life is lacking a certain passion.

During Shakespeare's time in the 16th century, male actors played female characters due to the prohibition of women from the theater.

In order to realize her dream, the lovely Viola (Alison Russo) masquerades as male actor Thomas Kent and quickly wins over Shakespeare's troupe of actors, as well as the budding playwright.

Russo is enormously appealing as Viola, who admires Will's artistry and finds herself falling in love.

Medina and Russo are well-paired and their scenes crackle with romantic sensuality.

The heart of the story is Will's choice between devoting his life to love or to his art. There's a wonderfully dramatic moment when Viola fears she may deprive the world of a great writer.

The supporting performances are also strong across the board.

James Lucey is suitably loathsome as the odious Lord Wessex, who claims Viola as his wife. He is a man motivated by greed, not love.

Patrick Keeffe is a lot of fun to watch as Ned Alleyn, an egotistical thespian who lands the part of Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet."

Rae Mancini shows plenty of spark as the steely Queen Elizabeth, a figure of great authority and power.

Roger Lemelin and Andrew Stigler supply reliable comic relief as Shakespeare's eccentric colleagues Henslowe and Fennyman.

I also liked Aaron Blanck as the uptight lackey Tilney, who is apoplectic when he discovers a woman appearing on stage.

One funny scene features Marlowe feeding lines of poetry to Will, who is attempting to win over Viola.

I believe "Shakespeare in Love" will appeal to non-fans of the Bard, although a familiarity with his work is recommended. Many of his most famous quotes are cited throughout the play.

There is even a re-creation of "Romeo and Juliet's" tragic climax, which is executed beautifully by Medina and Russo.

The costumes, sets, lighting, and sound design, are also first-rate.

With an abundance of humor and style, "Shakespeare in Love" is a rousing start to Burbage's new season. Church and company have raised the bar not only for themselves, but also for future productions of Shakespeare's works.

"Shakespeare in Love" runs through September 16. Burbage Theatre Company. 249 Roosevelt Avenue, Pawtucket. For tickets, call 401-484-0355.

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.