Reviewed by Judy Richter
On the surface, Bill Cain's "Equivocation" is about a play that William Shakespeare didn't write. As seen in the Bay Area premiere presented by Marin Theatre Company, however, it's far more than that. It's about the nature of truth and the consequences of telling -- or not telling -- the truth. It's also about a man coming to terms with grief over the loss of his son and trying to make amends to the daughter whom he neglected because of his grief.
The play that Shakespeare didn't write had to do with the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when oppressed Catholics planned to blow up the Protestant royal family and most members of Parliament at the House of Parliament. In "Equivocation," Shakespeare is known as Shag, or Shagspeare (Charles Shaw Robinson).One of the king's men, the devious Robert Cecil (Andrew Hurteau), gives Shag the king's commission to write a play based on that treasonous plot. Shagspeare and the other members of his King's Men acting company take the commission because of the money, but they think it's unworkable. Nevertheless, Shag does some research, talking with some of the jailed conspirators, including a Jesuit priest, Robert Garnet (Andy Murray), who imparts more insight than Shag had expected.
MTC artistic director Jasson Minadakis directs the tight ensemble cast. Only Robinson and Anna Bullard, who plays his neglected, vulnerable daughter, Judith, play just one character. The other four actors -- Hurteau, Craig Marker, Lance Gardner and Murray -- are listed as members of the King's Men, but they seamlessly assume various personae throughout the play. J.B. Wilson's set, inspired by the original Globe Theatre of London, easily becomes other settings, aided by Kurt Landisman's lighting. Costume designer Fumiko Bielefeldt puts the cast in modern outfits, mostly jeans for the men and a simple dress for Bullard, but adding a few accessories allows them to become other characters. The sound and music are by Chris Houston, while Richard Lane is the fight director.
It's a densely plotted, fascinating play, one that probably grows richer with additional viewings. A more than passing knowledge of Shakespeare's plays increases one's enjoyment because allusions to various works are liberally sprinkled throughout the script.