Romantic Marin Theatre Company comedy about Shakespeare amuses
“Shakespeare in Love” begins and ends with likable minstrel-troubadours playing likable melodies that evoke Elizabethan times.
In between, the two-hour Marin Theatre Company play focuses on two likable young lovers in a likable backstage romantic comedy that evokes what director Jasson Minadakis calls “the ultimate love letter to theater.”
He’s actually done an amazing job, one that guarantees almost any Bard of Avon buff will love the production — and anyone who’s never read a single classic phrase from any classic play or a foot of iambic pentameter by sonneteer Willie the Shakes will like it anyway.
I loved how the highly amusing show, which isn’t really a musical despite containing lots of music, whisked me back to the 16th century where Will and his gay frenemy Christopher “Kit” Marlowe must sell yet-to-be-penned pages — and, in effect, their souls — to desperate actors and hangers-on for a few pounds.
Minadakis, MTC’s artistic director for 12 years, uses every inch of the stage, every inch of the minimalist, bi-level scaffolding-like set designed by Kat Conley, and every inch of every aisle to recreate a likable backstage illusion of the public Rose Theater.
Opening night, he informed the audience there’d be “13 Bay Area actors on stage tonight and one Bay Area dog.”
Following the show, during which the 13 cast members portray 35 characters, I overheard some half-tongue-in-cheek chatter to the effect that Molly the Dog — named Spot in the play — turned in the best performance, especially when she stared like a pooch-in-headlights at the crowd.
I agree that the white Doodle is damned cute, and I admit I laughed at the “Out, damned Spot” play on words, but I’m equally certain that the real kudos belong to Megan Trout (a doppelgänger for a young Faye Dunaway?) as Viola de Lesseps, an energetic, betrothed heiress who craves to be on stage despite women being banned from doing that; Stacy Ross as haughty but multi-faceted Queen Elizabeth I; and Sango Tajima as Webster, a wide-eyed, open-mouthed imp who desperately wants to play the female lead.
The plot’s not complicated.
Dashing, successful, married 29-year-old Will Shakespeare is suffering from both playwright’s block (he complains about his quill being broken) and massive debts — until Viola becomes his muse (and his lover).
“Shakespeare in Love,” which spotlights intricately precise costumes by Katherine Nowacki (including some tear-aways) and wonderfully choreographed sword-fights by Liz Tenuto, is peppered with familiar aphorisms from Shakespeare’s plays.
Injected mostly for mock pun-tificating laughs.
But the funniest scenes involve slapstick kissing, bedroom lovemaking and a young actor losing his virginity.
Running gags include a convoluted Shakespearean fragment called “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter” and the queen’s love for plays that feature pooches.
The Oscar-winning screenplay by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman became the basis of the show, which was adapted by Lee Hall for the stage and first produced in London in 2014. Its amusing dialogue is sort of imitation, highfalutin Shakespearian without being so Olde English it’s undecipherable.
In the program, Minadakis writes about the mysterious ways plays always seem to come together “in the end.”
“Shakespeare in Love,” which undoubtedly will satisfy those who desire everything neatly tied in a ribbon, does just that.
“Shakespeare in Love” plays at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, through Dec. 23. Night performances, 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays; matinees, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets: $10 to $60. Information: 415-388-5208 or http://marintheatre.org.