By Heidi Sutton
In perfect timing with Valentine’s Day, the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts continues its 2017-18 season with the romantic comedy, “Shakespeare in Love.” The play, based on the 1998 award-winning film about William Shakespeare written by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard and starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes, was adapted for the stage by Lee Hall in 2014 and has been making the rounds in playhouses ever since. Last weekend it opened on the Mainstage complete with mistaken identities, disguises, a sword fight and a dog.
Regarded by many as the greatest writer in the English language and the foremost dramatist of his time, Shakespeare was thought to have written more than 30 plays and more than 100 sonnets. Or did he? That is the question. Rumors and conspiracy theories have circulated for years. Now the Bard himself is in the spotlight as the story follows his journey and inspiration in writing one of his greatest masterpieces, ultimately proving that sometimes it does take a village.
Kenneth Washington directs a large cast of 22 plus Baby Jack as Spot the dog in this love letter to Shakespeare.
Andrew Murano tackles the role of Will Shakespeare, a young playwright who is suffering from writer’s block. Deep in debt and constantly being upstaged by his rival Kit Marlowe (Evan Donnellan) he struggles to complete his latest play, a comedy titled “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter,” which he has promised to two theater owners, Henslowe (Michael Newman) and Burbage (Doug Vandewinckel).
When Shakespeare meets Viola de Lesseps (Katie Ferretti), the daughter of a rich merchant betrothed to another, their forbidden love affair becomes the inspiration for much of the dialogue written for the play, which slowly evolves to become the romantic tragedy of “Romeo and Juliet.” His greatest admirer (she can recite every one of his plays by heart), Viola disguises herself as a man and lands the lead role of Romeo, further inspiring the playwright to begin work on “Twelfth Night” at the end of the second act. “Are you my actor or my muse?” Shakespeare asks her. “I am both but I should be neither,” she replies. Will someone discover her secret? Will Shakespeare steal her heart?
The talented group of actors, many of whom are regulars at the Smithtown venue, seem quite at ease blending a play within a play with backstage antics and onstage dramas. Murano and Ferretti are perfectly cast as the show’s forbidden lovers, reciting Shakespeare with skill and passion. The production is also enhanced by its supporting cast including Christine Boehm as the dog-loving Queen Elizabeth and Camile Arnone as Viola’s nurse. Special mention should be made of Evan Donnellan who, although he is only in a few scenes, leaves the audience wanting more.
Set in the 1500s, the play’s Renaissance-era world is beautifully enhanced with period costumes by Chakira Doherty and the simple but functional set by Timothy Golebiewski serves as both castle with a balcony and an Elizabethean theater. The musical score, directed by Melissa Coyle, further elevates the show, especially during a dance in the castle where Shakespeare firsts lays eyes on his muse Viola.
Throughout the play, Shakespeare is told that all an audience wants is comedy along with love … and a bit with a dog and in that aspect “Shakespeare in Love” delivers. Recommended for mature audiences, running time is approximately two hours and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present “Shakespeare in Love” through March 4. The season continues with “Mamma Mia” from March 24 to April 29 and “Dreamgirls” from May 12 to June 17. Tickets are $35 adults, $32 seniors and $20 students. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.