Spring Fling @ Chicago Shakes

Theatre Review by Angela Allyn

3 stars out of 4

We are coming up on the lusty month of May and Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier is transporting Chicagoans (those lucky enough to score a ticket to newly opened and much anticipated Shakespeare in Love) back in time to William Shakespeare’s early career, where writers block and competing theaters hungry for new work are complicating his life and interrupting his pursuit of the lovely high born Viola de Lesseps who is unfortunately scheduled to marry a boorish aristocrat. As Will’s art becomes his life and life becomes his art, the audience is immersed in a fast paced poetic conceptual rubrics cube or plot line origami, where you see the seeds of plays he is yet to write. It’s a play within a play before the play is even written: we know all the plots before Will lives it. 

This historical fiction paean to the process of crafting live theatre is a puzzlement: usually the book or play becomes the movie, but in this case Lee Hall has adapted an Oscar award winning film with a screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard into a live theatre piece that director Rachel Rockwell makes sing, breathe and dance.  In our era of endlessly recycled media “products” it is perhaps right and good that this story so inherently about the life of the theatre comes home to the Courtyard, which stands in well for the Rose and the Curtain. The perfectly wonderful film translates gorgeously with the help of Scott Davis’s scenic design and the rich costumes by Susan Mickey. The show is a romance, it’s a comedy, its everything we love.

Disguised as Thomas Kent so that she can pursue acting on the London stage, where women were prohibited, Viola de Lesseps (Kate McGonigle) is entranced by Shakespeare’s poetic writing in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of Shakespeare in Love, a stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning film, directed by Rachel Rockwell in CST's Courtyard Theater, April 15–June 11, 2017. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Disguised as Thomas Kent so that she can pursue acting on the London stage, where women were prohibited, Viola de Lesseps (Kate McGonigle) is entranced by Shakespeare’s poetic writing in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of Shakespeare in Love, a stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning film, directed by Rachel Rockwell in CST's Courtyard Theater, April 15–June 11, 2017. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Rockwell helms the earnest yet rakish Nick Rehberger as Will and the brash, dare I say feminist? Viola by Kate McGonigle through the breathless plot, weaving song, music, courtly and peasant dances seamlessly into the flow.  This is first rate entertainment, and a great place to take your beloved even if they are fearful of diving into Shakespeare —here they will find comfortable footing.  Everything in this production is top notch. Standout performances include Linda Reiter as a glowing yet crusty Queen Elizabeth, and Chicago Shakes regular Larry Yando as Henslowe, the hapless and deeply indebted theatre owner who trusts the process and hopes this young fellow writes a hit.  When asked how the seeming chaos of the rehearsals will result in a show worth watching, he assures us all, with impeccable comic timing,  “it always does” and then he says the line which is my new mantra about trusting the process: “Its a Mystery!”  His faith in this most ancient and deeply human art form is rewarded. For those who need further enticement to enjoy this shimmering production: there’s a dog!  Rescue dog Dash takes the part of Spot, a canine member of Shakespeare’s acting troupe.  Even in Shakespeare’s time a dog will steal the show and is sure to bring in the crowds.   The show runs now until June 11, 2017

To make sure EVERYONE can enjoy the show check out these accessible special performances:  an audio described performance on Sunday May 7 at 2 (come at noon for an optional touch tour)  and open captioned performances on Thursday May 11 at 1pm and Friday May 12 at 7:30pm. Also there will be an ASL duo interpreted show on Friday May 19 at 7:30pm.

For tickets to all shows and further information go to www.chicagoshakes.com or call 312-595-5600 or go to http://www.theatreinchicago.com/shakespeare-in-love/9027/