Theatre Review

Burbage sets the bar high with 'Shakespeare in Love'

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By DON FOWLER

Burbage Theatre Company gets a head start on the fall theatre season with a late-August production of the delightfully funny “Shakespeare in Love.”

The original movie by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard was adapted for the stage by Lee Hall. Both movie and play have received a great reception from Shakespeare lovers and those not that familiar with the Bard, the reason being that it is easily accessible and very funny.

Director Jeff Church has used the theatre space wisely, working around the four large pillars and taking advantage of four entrances/exits, setting the sprawling production in the round.

The cast of 19 is led by two handsomely talented young actors: Dillon Medina as William Shakespeare and Allison Russo as Viola.

The plot centers around Will facing writer’s block while working on his latest play, “Romeo and Ethel, The Pirate’s Daughter.” The references to Shakespeare’s most popular and accessible play, “Romeo and Juliet,” are obvious, as snippets of familiar dialogue find their way into the script. The dialogue is crisp, sharp and hysterically funny.

I don’t want to spoil it for you by telling the many twists and turns of the intricate plot, except to say that Viola is a noblewoman who loves the theatre, but is soon to be married off by her father to a Virginia tobacco baron.

Viola disguises herself as a man and auditions for Will’s play, only to fall madly in love with him. The feeling his mutual and she becomes his inspiration to write again.

This is a time in the past when only men were allowed to act on stage, and also when men decided who their daughters would marry, making Viola one of the first liberated women in the history of theatre.

There are some interesting sub-plots and a few roles that stand out among the huge cast.

Director Jeff Church has given himself the role of Phillip Marlowe, Shakespeare’s contemporary and friendly rival. Church plays off Medina beautifully, using a smirk and hand gestures that speak for themselves. He rules the stage whenever he appears.

Rae Mancini has a small but powerful role as Queen Elizabeth, the stately woman who sees the power behind Viola and rights the wrongs thrust upon her.

Love conquers all and all’s well that ends well in this lively, overwhelming production that sets the bar high for the coming theatre season.

“Shakespeare in Love” is at Burbage Theatre Company through September 16. Tickets are $25, $15 for students. You can buy online at www.burbagetheatre.org or call 484-0355. The theatre is located at 249 Roosevelt Ave. in Pawtucket, around the corner from the Pawtucket Armory.

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