Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Theater Review: Equivocation

The Play About the Play Within the Play’s the Thing. There's No Equivocating on That
By Lauren Yarger
Terrific performances by John Pankow as William Shakespeare and a strong ensemble cast playing multiple roles to portray members of his Jacobean acting company, conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot and various royals and politicos trying to cover up what really happened make for some fabulous theater in Manhattan Theatre Club’s Off-Broadway production of Equivocation.

The brightest star of the play, however, is its author Bill Cain, who skillfully weaves history, intrigue and language of the Bard to tell one of the most satisfying tales on a NY stage this season.

Shag, short for Shagspeare (there are a number of different spellings of his name), has been commissioned by Secretary of State Sir Robert Cecil (David Pittu) to write a play about the Gunpowder Plot, an attempt in 1605 by Catholics to blow up Parliament and assassinate Protestant King James I (David Furr). It seems like easy money for The King’s Men, the acting troupe performing Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe Theatre and at court.

Ah, but here’s the rub: the story on which the play must be based has been written by the king himself and it isn’t based on truth. It’s what those in power would like adopted as the official version. They agree that Shag, whom Cecil thinks is so talented that his works might still be read 50 years hence, should be the one to write it and while he’s at it, James would some witches added just for fun. Furr is equally entertaining playing the spoiled king and Sharpe, a conceited actor in the troupe.

Shag tries to write the play, but finds a lot of the facts don’t hold up under scrutiny (and even today there are unanswered questions about what happened and who really was involved. Visit http://www.gunpowder-plot.org/). Where did Guy Fawkes and a bunch of working class men get all that gunpowder and how did they dig tunnels to plant it underneath Parliament without removing any dirt for instance? In fact, there doesn’t seem to be evidence of a plot at all. Shag sneaks into prison to question tortured co-conspirator Thomas Wintour, but still can’t find any answers.

Also unable to provide any insight is another accused co-conspirator, Father Henry Garnet (Michael Countryman), head of the Jesuits and the last of the “old faith” priests. Garnet writes a pamphlet called “Equivocation” which, according to his critics, teaches persecuted and imprisoned Catholics how to lie under torture, but which, according to its author, explains rather “how to tell the truth in trying times.”

Shag tries to master the art of equivocation so he can write a play that will please the king without rewriting history. The result is really very clever. Cain deserves to take a bow along with the wonderful ensemble directed by Garry Hynes, because, really, the play’s the thing here. Rounding out the troupe is Remy Auberjonois and Charlotte Parry, the only actor besides Pankow playing a single role as Shag’s neglected and unappreciated daughter Judith who obsesses with doing the troupe’s laundry and with ridding her father’s works of boring soliloquies.

Francis O’Connor designs the brooding metal set and costumes that ingeniously appear to be modern and of the period simultaneously. Likewise, Cain’s uses today’s language, yet mixes in enough iambic pentameter to sound like the bard. Get over to the Globe …. I mean New York City Center, and catch this one before it closes March 28.

Tickets are available by calling 212-581-1212. The play is on Stage I at 131 West 55th St., NYC.

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• Lord’s name taken in vain
• Violence
• Bloody violence/ torture

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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