Beauty and the Bard: Concordia University’s "Shakespeare in Love" is a tale of love, poetry, and laughs
Everyone knows Shakespeare's classic Romeo and Juliet. But how did that play come to fruition and what was Shakespeare’s inspiration for the tragic tale?
Concordia University's production of Shakespeare in Love, a play adapted by Lee Hall and based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, takes us back to the days when William Shakespeare was a struggling poet and bard.
William Shakespeare (Corey Flanders) has a bad case of writer’s block. It’s even more dire that he owes two producers a script for a new show, so the pressure is on. His best friend and fellow bard, Kit Marlowe (Caleb Gross), has agreed to help him find some inspiration and has even helped edit a few of his lines. In this day and age, more people are seeing and loving shows written by Marlowe rather than Shakespeare.
Slowly but surely Shakespeare starts building the script for his famous Romeo and Juliet. He prematurely tells the producers he’s got something in the works and they run with it, holding auditions. At this time in history, women were not allowed to act on stage and all female roles were played by men in drag.
Viola de Lesseps (Mackensi Wilson), the daughter of a very wealthy merchant, won't be deterred by society's norms and dresses up as a man, calls herself Tom, and auditions. She is a huge fan of Shakespeare’s work and she’s the only one to use one of his sonnets for the audition. Not only that, but she is easily the best actor at auditions.
When Shakespeare goes to Viola’s house to deliver the letter stating he is offering the role of Romeo to Tom, there is a ball happening at the manor. It is a party for Viola to meet Lord Wessex (Daniel Adams), a potential suitor for her hand in marriage.
Shakespeare now sees Viola as herself and is instantly enchanted by her. They dance and later that night, after she has gone to her room, Shakespeare tries to woo her with her words while she stands on the balcony. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Marlowe is there to help him make his speech, confessing his love.
With Viola as his new muse, the true Romeo and Juliet starts to take shape. Viola, still disguised as Tom, struggles with a kissing scene. When Shakespeare himself steps in to show everyone how it is done, Shakespeare and Viola kiss—and he realizes who she is.
The two start a passionate love affair but Viola is promised to be wed to Lord Wessex and they are running out of time. What will the two star-crossed lovers do to protect themselves and their love? (Hint: This outcome is not one of a tragedy.)
This show is pure fun. There’s singing, dancing, sword fights, and even a live dog. The script is a side-splitter and you don’t need to be a fan of Shakespeare to appreciate the humor.
Flanders is wonderful as Shakespeare and gives a very charming performance. He’s a natural on the stage. Gross is a witty Marlowe, whose comedic timing is pretty much perfect. The two of them play well off each other on stage and the friendship rings true.
Wilson as the earnest and passionate Viola commands the stage and you can’t help but be drawn to her whenever she is on stage. Her connection with Flanders is extremely strong and their love is believable and adorable.
Special shoutout to James Wilson as Fennyman. He’s hilarious and his running gag of telling the band to shut it hits every single time. I thoroughly enjoyed his performance. Director Amanda Williams was spot-on with this casting choice.
Deaconess Norma Polk designed a beautiful set, with tons of levels for the actors to play. The real design standout was the costumes. They are period-perfect and stunning on stage. The costume team was comprised of Amanda Williams, Denise Williams, Nancy Koppin, and Grace Miles. This was the A-Team as the costumes were fabulous.
If you do anything this weekend, go see this show. It’s truly a joy from start to finish.
Marley Boone is a theater professional who has been in the industry since 2015. While living in Philadelphia, she wrote theater reviews for DC Metro Arts.
Concordia Univeristy's “Shakespeare in Love“ runs October 26-29 at the Black Box Theatre, 4090 Geddes Road, Ann Arbor. For more information and tickets, visit cuaa.edu.