Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Palo Alto Players stages 'Shakespeare in Love'

Drew Benjamin Jones is Will Shakespeare and April Culver is Viola de Lesseps. (Photo by Joyce Goldschmid)

Fans of the Bard will have fun with the allusions to his plays and sonnets in “Shakespeare in Love,” presented by Palo Alto Players.

The screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, adapted for the stage by Lee Hall, is liberally sprinkled with those snippets.

It starts as Will Shakespeare (Drew Benjamin Jones) is struggling with writer’s block in London in 1593 as he tries to write the sonnet beginning “Shall I compare thee to a.” 
His friend Marlowe (Brad Satterwhite) supplies the end of the line with “summer’s 

But it’s more than just the sonnet. Will also is trying to write a play called “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter” while trying to cast the role of Romeo. He’s also being hounded by producers demanding a script and by people to whom he owes money.

He finds his Romeo, but the actor is a woman, Viola de Lesseps (April Culver), disguised as a man called Thomas Kent. She can’t play Juliet because women were barred from the stage. Thomas/Viola becomes his muse for “Romeo and Juliet” and, when her true identity is revealed, his lover.

However, her wealthy father (Todd Wright) wants her to marry Wessex (Jeff Clarke). Wessex just wants her dowry to support his tobacco farm in Virginia. He plans to take her there immediately after the wedding.

As directed by Lee Ann Payne, this first non-professional production of the play is a mixed bag. The first act is tough going because it’s not always clear which of the lesser characters is which and because the acting is uneven.

The second act goes more smoothly because the plot is more straightforward and the actors more settled, or at least they were at opening night.

Besides Jones as Will, Satterwhite as Marlowe and Culver as Viola, some of the stronger performances come from Doll Piccotto as the imperious Queen Elizabeth I, Melinda Marks as Viola’s nurse and David Blackburn as Henslowe, owner of the Rose Theatre.

Although it’s not a musical, the show includes music by Paddy Cunneen, directed by Lauren Bevilacqua.

The period costumes are by Patricia Tyler with the flexible set by Scott Ludwig, lighting by Edward Hunter and sound by Jeff Grafton.

Running about two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission, “Shakespeare in Love” will continue through Feb. 3 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

For tickets and information, call (650) 329-0891 or visit www.paplayers.org.