A&E road trip: 'Equivocation' in D.C.

November 30, 2011
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(Note: Sparked by a Creative Renewal Grant from the Arts Council of Indianapolis, I'm seeing as much theater around the country . Here's the latest.)

One of the many, many pleasures of Bill Cain’s play “Equivocation” is how deftly the playwright constructs a rough draft of a play that Shakespeare never wrote.

That fragment-of-a-play-within-a-play is based on the alleged “Gunpowder Plot” of Guy Fawkes and company—a story that the Bard is ordered to write in order to elevate the stature of the buffoonish King and denigrate his enemies.

Shakespeare—or Shagspeare as he is known here—knows the difference between propaganda and literature. But he isn’t given much choice in the matter: Write the play or else.

Well, we know he didn’t write it. But like Shakespeare before him, Bill Cain isn’t shy about taking a bit of history and manipulating it for theatrical pleasure. And in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production being staged at Washington D.C.’s Arena Stage through Jan. 1, he’s teamed with a near ideal cast and a savvy director to pull it all together.

In their hands, “Equivocation” is a piece that takes the best elements of such costume dramas as “A Man for All Seasons,” mixes in a reluctant hero a la Rick from “Casablanca,” and finds a great balance of bon mots (“Plays have beginnings and ends—two lies right there.”) and moving dramatic moments, adding up to a tremendously satisfying evening.

I wasn’t convinced that the fourth wall needed to be broken—although having Shag’s daughter (a movingly restrained Christine Albright) criticize soliloquies in soliloquy form was fun. And the second act lacked the moment-to-moment theatrical joy of the first, occasionally seeming to try to convince us of things we’ve already accepted. But those quibbles aren’t meant to diminish the achievement here. Director Bill Rauch wisely avoids underlining the contemporary too obviously, allowing the costumes and set to stay in period and the audience to meet the show half way to draw its own parallels to today. The design is spare but effectively so.

Anthony Heald (TV watchers may remember him as a regular on “Boston Public”) plays Shagspeare as a man accustomed to twisting facts, just uncomfortable being ordered to do so. He still hasn’t come to terms with the death of his son and keeps the boy’s twin sister at an emotional distance. Jonathan Haugen, another Oregon Shakespeare Festival regular, should receive two best supporting actor awards for playing both the King’s emotionally and physically twisted right-hand-man Cecil and one of the Shakespearian troupers. (My only problem with Haugen—his massive torso tattoo, which distracted in what should have been a vulnerable near-nude scene for Cecil.) They, along with John Tufts, Richard Elmore, and Gergory Linington, made me jealous of those living close enough to Ashland, Oregon, who get to see their work on a regular basis.

For a sample, click here.

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  1. A Tilted Kilt at a water park themed hotel? Who planned that one? I guess the Dad's need something to do while the kids are on the water slides.

  2. Don't come down on the fair for offering drinks. This is a craft and certainly one that belongs in agriculture due to ingredients. And for those worrying about how much you can drink. I'm sure it's more to do with liability than anything else. They don't want people suing for being over served. If you want a buzz, do a little pre-drinking before you go.

  3. I don't drink but go into this "controlled area" so my friend can drink. They have their 3 drink limit and then I give my friend my 3 drink limit. How is the fair going to control this very likely situation????

  4. I feel the conditions of the alcohol sales are a bit heavy handed, but you need to realize this is the first year in quite some time that beer & wine will be sold at the fair. They're starting off slowly to get a gauge on how it will perform this year - I would assume if everything goes fine that they relax some of the limits in the next year or couple of years. That said, I think requiring the consumption of alcohol to only occur in the beer tent is a bit much. That is going to be an awkward situation for those with minors - "Honey, I'm getting a beer... Ok, sure go ahead... Alright see you in just a min- half an hour."

  5. This might be an effort on the part of the State Fair Board to manage the risk until they get a better feel for it. However, the blanket notion that alcohol should not be served at "family oriented" events is perhaps an oversimplification. and not too realistic. For 15 years, I was a volunteer at the Indianapolis Air Show, which was as family oriented an event as it gets. We sold beer donated by Monarch Beverage Company and served by licensed and trained employees of United Package Liquors who were unpaid volunteers. And where did that money go? To central Indiana children's charities, including Riley Hospital for Children! It's all about managing the risk.