A staple of young adult literature is telling the story of a significant historical period through the eyes of a child. That's the situation of "The Shakespeare Stealer" adapted by Gary L. Blackwood from his novel. Widge is a boy who's been trained in "charactery", a kind of stenography. He is sent by a mysterious, dark figure, Falconer, (strongly played by David Drummond) to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in order to steal "Hamlet", by transcribing it in performance. But as he views the drama from backstage, he finds himself seduced by the stage, and becomes one of the players. In doing so, he also discovers a kind of family and belonging with the other actors that he's never known in his own life.
It's a fine story, rich with the immediacy of detail, intrigue and danger that makes great adventure. This production, well-acted and solidly (if not perfectly) directed by Rita Giomi has some rough edges, but still creates vivid and entertaining drama. It's particularly good at conveying the actor's craft, the thrill and discipline that go with performance, and in melding personal threats with the flashing blades of first-rate sword fighting (beautifully choreographed by Geoffrey Alm). It's rather less successful at keeping the text intelligible, and in convincing us that Widge would so easily abandon his mission, especially given the personal jeopardy it puts him in.
Tim Gouran is charming as Widge, combining a naîve and enthusiastic energy with clearly focused acting technique. The design of Edie Whitsell's set, dominated by a broad, stage-wide sheet of parchment covered with the curious shorthand calligraphy, is attractive and effective. Because we see all of "Hamlet" only as the giant shadows cast by the players onto that drape, we clearly understand the huge shadow they are also casting on Widge's life. Mr. Gouran is just the sort of ambitious, admirable young fellow to be in this position, and his friends (and enemies) shape his character as much as his adventure.
T.D. Greenan and Anthony Piana are fellow struggling actors, and good friends for Widge. Mr. Greenan, who has an interesting role exploring the gender restrictions of Elizabethan theatre, lost many of his lines to poor vocal projection. That, in combination with the Shakespearean vocabulary, make for some pretty rough going for younger viewers. There was no such problem with the experienced Shakespearean actors Eric Ray Anderson and Peter Crook, or with Todd Jamieson's convincing and harried William Shakespeare.
Perhaps Widge's most interesting encounters are with Nick, a dangerous rival and reluctant friend. M. J. Sieber has both the range and the depth to play all those varied notes on the scale, and the subtlety to make them interesting. Suzy Hunt was stunning as the regal Queen Elizabeth, especially dressed in Jeanette deJong's spectacular costume.
"The Shakespeare Stealer" is a solid piece of drama, capturing the color and excitement of Elizabethan theatre and engaging us with an intricate and well-made story. The mounting of this production is beautiful, and except for some issues of clarity, most often compensated for by the sheer excitement of the physical action, it's well presented. It certainly makes the sometimes forbidding area of Shakespeare much more friendly and welcoming to young minds discovering it for the first time. That's no small achievement.
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