When you sit down in the theatre to see this production of “Equivocation” by Bill Cain at Silver Spring Stage, the set by Bridgid Burge is
The time is 1605 and Shakespeare (Keith Cassidy)-called Shagspeare by Cain-is called upon by Robert Cecil (Gary Sullivan), a member of James I’s (Nicholas Temple), and previously Elizabeth I’s, confidant and Secretary of State, to write a play about the Gunpowder Plot. Shag is not too keen on the assignment, but the money is good. His cooperative of performers convinces him to take the endeavor. However, Shag soon realizes there are risks in writing a play whose storyline is dictated by the King and Cecil. As he tries to get through the maze of lies and half truths about the rebellion, he also tries to come to terms with telling the truth and telling falsehoods. He learns that equivocation often means asking the real question, the one that the asker really wants to hear answered.
Through his quest to find out the real plot of the Rebellion, he is allowed by Cecil to interview two of those implicated and now in imprisoned. The first is Tom Wintour (Temple) who was caught up by religious fervor as the Gunpowder Plot was an insurrection that came from the religious strife in England at the time between Catholics and Protestants. The other is Father Henry Garnet (Tom Howley), a Jesuit priest who was unwittingly drawn
In the end it is Shag’s surviving daughter, Judith (Lena Winter), who helps her father come to terms with this manuscript he is trying to write without himself going to prison. Judith was one of a set of twins. Her twin brother, Hamnet, died at age 11 and was favored by their father. The relationship of this daughter and the Bard is also explored in this drama.
Although this is serious play with many of the features of a Shakespearean drama-violent death, politics, and philosophical and theological ideas-there is a great deal of comedy as well. The great playwright wisely did this to keep the audience’s ear and attention. Even at the darkest points of the play, Cain, like his main character, also uses humor to get us through.
If you are a fan of quality theatre, enjoy thoughtful
well writtenscripts and magnificent performances, you should not miss this production of “Equivocation.”
The whole cast gives some of the finest performances you may see in community theatre. Cassidy captures the Bard and opens this writer’s soul that questioned life in order to explain it to his audience and himself. His scenes with Judith are most touching, but Shag’s befriending of the imprisoned conspirator, Tom Wintour, is heart-wrenching. Cassidy’s performance is
Winter as Judith also bring a nuanced performance. She is at times the hurt child, the lonely sibling of her dead twin, her father’s keeper and in the end his true helpmate. Her finest moments, although they were all masterful, are at the end of the performance when she explains how she learned about her father’s feeling for her through his last few plays.
Sullivan, like the other three in the cast, plays multiple roles. These four members of the acting company (Sullivan, Temple, Howley
Howley’s Garnet has strength and courage. His final scene as Garnet, brings dignity to a man who has had all his physical dignity taken away. When he is portraying Richard, the troupe’s manager and long-standing performer, Howley conveys Richard’s strong friendship to Shag and his loyalty to his troupe.
Dubov plays a variety of roles including an actor. He plays a priest, a conspirator, Lady Macbeth and others. However, it is when he plays Coke, the prosecutor at Garnet’s trial that his abilities are best used. We are shown the problems of nepotism-Coke is the brother-in-law to Cecil-when intelligence and insight are truly the most important criteria for the position. Dubov does this by having Coke lose a match of wits and lose his stature in the court with not only dialogue but body language as well.
Of the troupe members,
Smith’s direction is light handed, but she creates very moving visual scenes. It is hard to make a hanging more horrifying than in real life, but she comes close to doing just that. Her clever staging of the plays within plays is artful.
James Morrison’s lighting design adds to the darkness of those scenes of pain and violence. He also manages to light the cast even when they are off the stage along the edge of the audience.
Dylan Sullivan also helps add to the feeling of the piece with his sound design. Whether it is intermittent music or the rabble of the crowd, it is done well.
James Hoobler and Jennifer Georgia are the Costume Designers. Not only is the clothing all in period, down to the undergarments, but the costumes allow flexibility as the actors switch characters often very quickly. The costumes all fit perfectly. Again, a hand goes to the director for that attention to detail.
Cain, the playwright, is also a Jesuit priest. The religious themes of this play and the idea of truth are probably ideas he contemplates in his own life. However, all of the ideas of Equivocation, truth, freedom of religion and ideology, the thirst for power and its abuses are all extremely relevant today, maybe even more than in 2009 when the drama was first presented.
If you are a fan of quality theatre, enjoy thoughtful
Running Time: Three hours with an intermission.
Advisory: Strong language and violent scenes make this play
Disclaimer: Susan Brall has been involved in several productions at Silver Spring Stage. This did not affect her review of this production.