It’s the sort of device William Shakespeare would love: a playwright stymied for inspiration falls for a fellow actor and finds in love a fresh jolt of creativity.
In the play “Shakespeare In Love,” adapted from the 1998 film, the playwright in question is Shakespeare himself, the actor a woman passionate for the theater and the fruit of this burgeoning romance that quintessential love story “Romeo and Juliet.”
“It’s sort of a rom-com,” admitted Waco Civic Theatre director Eric Shephard, who is directing the WCT production that opens Friday. Shephard saw the North American premiere of the Lee Hall play and found it captured much of the film’s witty dialogue and humor — no surprise, since the Marc Norman film script featured help from playwright Tom Stoppard.
Shephard secured the community theater rights to the play and found it a production with many moving parts beyond the challenge of 17th-century setting and occasional Shakespearean dialogue. “It’s quite a bit like a musical. There’s fight choreography, scenes of intimacy and regular dialogue,” he said. “It’s also quite funny.”
The play, set in the Elizabethan age, finds young London playwright Will (Ethan Trueman) squeezed by the need to create a new play for theater owner Phillip Henslowe (Jeremy Stallings) — his idea is “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter” — but stalled for new ideas, despite the help of fellow playwright and rival Christopher Marlowe (Alec Ehringer).
He falls for a young woman Viola de Lesseps (Julia Meek), a lover of theater and would-be actress despite the ban on women in theater. She’s engaged to Lord Wessex (John Tripp) and Will triggers his anger when he finds Will secretly pursuing her. The growing romance between actors starts to change the plot line for Will’s new play and the playwright finds he has to be creative as well in scheming against the rich and powerful to maintain his chances at Viola’s heart.
The WCT production features a cast of 24, 18 of which are men, and integrates well-known lines from Shakespeare’s plays into contemporary dialogue. There’s also court intrigue, swordplay, clandestine meetings and timely intervention from Queen Elizabeth (Karen Savage). “It’s quite a bit to keep track of,” noted Shephard. “How does it all come together? To quote Philip Henslowe, ‘It’s a mystery.’”