Play writing benefits with ‘Shakespeare in Love’

Imagine history’s greatest playwright with writer’s block. How does he surmount it? Through love, of course.

That’s the premise of “Shakespeare in Love,” the movie-turned-play now at Marin Theatre Company.

As the play opens in London in 1593, Will Shakespeare (Adam Magill) is trying to write a pirate-themed play called “Romeo and Ethel.” He also has financial troubles, as do some theater owners.

Thanks to his friend and fellow playwright Christopher “Kit” Marlowe (Kenny Toll), Ethel becomes Juliet and the pirates disappear. Also helping in the process is a stage-struck noblewoman, Viola de Lesseps (Megan Trout), who disguises herself as a young man so that she can audition for the role of Romeo.

She takes that tack because women weren’t allowed on stage in Elizabethan England. Instead boys played women’s roles.

Will is quite taken with the young man and eventually discovers the ruse. They fall in love, and circumstances lead to her playing Juliet rather than Romeo.

However, there are complications. First, Viola’s father orders her to marry Wessex (Thomas Gorrebeeck), whom she doesn’t love. Second, Will is already married to Anne Hathaway in Stratford.

Lee Hall’s adaptation of the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard calls for dozens of characters. MTC director Jasson Minadakis whittles his cast down to 13 actors plus one scene-stealing dog.

Hence, most of the actors play multiple roles, and most of them are Bay Area favorites. Chief among them is Stacy Ross, who is seen as Viola’s supportive nurse and Queen Elizabeth I, among others. Everyone else is noteworthy, too.

One interesting aspect of this production is that all of the actors sing and play musical instruments, adding to the enjoyment. Jennifer Reason is music director. There’s also dancing to choreography by Liz Tenuto. Snippets from other Shakespeare plays are fun, too.

The simple set is by Kat Conley with lighting by Kurt Landisman, sound by Sara Huddleston and period costumes by Katherine Nowacki.

At opening night on Nov. 28, the first act hadn’t quite come together, but the second act was much more cohesive, especially in the “Romeo and Juliet” scenes.

Running about two hours with one intermission, “Shakespeare in Love” will continue through Dec. 17 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. For tickets and information, call (415) 388-5208 or visit