REVIEW: “Shakespeare in Love” at Capital Rep

by Roseann Cane

Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, Producing Artistic Director of the Capital Repertory Theatre, has long been devoted to making the company currently known as theREP a vital contributor to the community in which it lives, to, as she has written, “…to keep our mission of community service strong!” From theREP’s educational programs to its regular employment of local actors, technicians, and designers, the Capital District is all the richer for theREP’s ongoing commitment.

As director of Shakespeare In Love, Mancinelli-Cahill has employed a veritable army of local actors, and on opening night, the audience’s  pleasure in seeing an ensemble of familiar faces was delightfully palpable. I have often been awed by this director’s ability to gracefully and effectively move large casts on a relatively small stage. This time, however, something…the timing, the movement…seemed off, and as I watched the play I realize the problem stemmed not from the direction, but from the script.

Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s original screenplay, directed by John Madden, was a brilliant visual feast, with dialogue every bit as sharp and witty as one would expect from Norman and Stoppard. Lee Hall’s stage adaptation falls short of the mark. This problem is not unusual with stage plays adapted from screenplays, nor is it surprising. Hall’s script seemed stifling to me, a sharp contrast to the screen version.

The actors meshed beautifully as an ensemble, even as the distinctive characterizations were firmly established. Particularly memorable was Kevin McGuire (Henslowe), whose quicksilver performance nearly illuminated the theater whenever he took the stage. Christian Ryan’s Will Shakespeare was strong, passionate, and touching, as was Jenny Strassburg’s Viola De Lesseps. The two made a lovely, smitten pair. Laurie O’Brien’s Queen Elizabeth I was deliciously intimidating and amusing, and David Girard (Richard Burbage), Benita Zahn (Edmond Tilney, among others), Parker Cross (Lambert, among others), and Tom Templeton (Ned, among others) all shone brightly. But really, every cast member, whether a local luminary or a newcomer to theREP, was a pleasure to watch.

(bottom Left – Right) Casie Girvin, Christian Ryan, Kevin Craig West (Top Left – Right) Kevin McGuire, Jenny Strassburg, Diaka Kaba Hill, Benita Zahn, and Gabrielle Straight

Lawrence E. Moten III’s minimalist set caught me off guard initially, but it actually worked nicely, making scene changes a breeze by transforming chests, boxes, and other objects, moved quickly and gracefully, into the furniture and set dressing required from scene to scene. There was, in my opinion, one major misstep: a gurney (or was it a portable massage table?) with bright chrome legs was used as a bed in one scene and a table in the next, but the chrome and the contemporary structure was very distracting.

Evan Prizant’s costumes were beautifully built, although I found the steampunk touches to some of them more of a distraction. For this comical fantasy to really work, I submit that the costumes need to be faithful to the era. The jokes, the sly (and eventually overworked) injections of familiar Shakespearean quotations, and the humorous exchanges between characters would, I think, be much funnier with the juxtaposition of “serious,” era-appropriate costumes.

The music, composed by Paddy Cunneen using original lyrics by William Shakespeare, was superb, and the orchestra conducted by Josh D. Smith, as well as the cast members who doubled as madrigal singers, could not have been better. Travis McHale’s lighting design was elegant, as was Rider Stanton’s sound design.

And so, kudos to the team of actors and technicians who collaborated on this celebration of theater and community. If you haven’t yet seen the film version of Shakespeare In Love, see the play first to avoid the temptation of making comparisons (but do see the film later, because it truly is a cinematic gem).

Capital Repertory Theatre presents Shakespeare in Love by Lee Hall, directed by Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, from April 11-May 12, 2019.  Music composed by Paddy Cunneen using original lyrics by William Shakespeare, conducted by Josh D. Smith. Ste design by Lawrence E. Moten III, costume design by Evan Prizant, sound design by Rider Stanton, lighting design by Travis McHale. Cast: Cedar Brock (Adam/Ensemble), Kevin Craig West (Kit Marlowe), Ellen Cribbs (Nurse/Ensemble), Parker Cross (Robin Tybalt/Ensemble), Joshua DeMarco (Sam/Ensemble), Justin Friello (Musician/Boatman/Ensemble), David Girard (Richard Burbage), Casie Girvin (JohnWebster/Ensemble), Diaka Kaba Hill (Female1/Ensemble),  David Kenner (LordWessex), Peter Langstaff (Ralph/Ensemble), Kevin McGuire (Henslowe), Laurie O’Brien (QueenElizabethI/Ensemble), Ryan Palmer (Sir Robin/Ensemble), John Romeo (Fennyman), Christian Ryan (WillShakespeare), Micaiah  Siemski (Peter/Ensemble), Fred Sirois (Wabash/Ensemble), Gabrielle Straight (Female2/Ensemble), Jenny Strassburg (Viola), Tom Templeton ( Ned/Ensemble), Matthew Winning (Nol/Benvolio/Ensemble), Benita Zahn (Tilney/MistressQuickly/Kate),

Previews for Shakespeare in Love take place April 5–7. Opening night is Tuesday, April 9. Regular performances continue through Sunday, May 12. Performance times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday—with matinees 3 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; and 2 p.m. Wednesday, April 17. Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl Street, Albany. Tickets range from $27–$62. Students with valid ID: $16 all shows. For tickets and information, call Tickets by Proctors, 518.445.SHOW (7469) or visit capitalrep.org. 

Opening night features live music in the café at 6:30 p.m. and complimentary post-show champagne and dessert from Bella Napoli Bakery.

Special events include:

6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 16—Chef’s Table performance includes complimentary light fare from 677 Prime for ticketholders.

6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 17—Pre-show discussion led by Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill.

Wednesday, April 24—Post-show Discussion with Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill and the cast of Shakespeare in Love1 p.m.

Sunday, April 28—Behind-the-Scenes pre-matinee discussion with Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, featuring light snacks for ticketholders at 12:30 p.m.. 6:30 p.m.

Thursday, May 2: Thirsty Thursday performance includes complimentary adult beverage tastings from Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits for ticketholders.

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