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Adept actors anchor scintillating Equivocation
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Adept actors anchor scintillating Equivocation

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Equivocation
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through December 13


A fascinating new play opened at Seattle Rep last week, imported from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Equivocation is a sophisticated fictional history. It supposes what might have happened if King James 1 had asked Shakespeare to write a propagandized play in favor of the monarch's version of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. If your knowledge of English history runs toward, "I know there were a few King Henrys and then Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare wrote during Queen Elizabeth's reign," you're probably already a far bit ahead of many.

To contextualize: King Henry VIII wanted to divorce a wife, but since the Pope wouldn't let him, he created the Protestant Church of England. After he died, his daughter Mary (Bloody Mary) made England Catholic again, then Elizabeth I made it Protestant and James 1 (of Scotland) was expected to make it Catholic again. When he didn't, there was a plot to blow up the Parliament building by making a bomb room under the throne room, filling it with gunpowder. The plot was leaked and the conspirators were killed.

Equivocation postulates that Shakespeare is asked to write a "current events" play about the plot which glorifies the king. Robert Cecil, the king's right hand, basically indicates that Shakespeare either does that or dies. But what if there really wasn't a plot? What if Cecil made it up to gain the king sympathy? Torture a few guys to confess, get people outraged at their behavior, unify the country&.

Playwright Bill Cain weaves in plot lines that are reminiscent of modern events: the plot to blow up the Twin Towers, torture to get information one wants, the government lying to "unify" the country toward an attitude it wants the country to have (propaganda), and the idea of equivocation, which is described as "telling the truth in difficult situations."

Cain points to our love of "truth," and asks what it is. "Would hide the king in your house? & And if an enemy comes to the door and asks if the king is inside, what would you say?" Betray your oath to your king? Risk death to yourself if found out? What is being "true to yourself" in this situation?

We love absolutes. We want everything to boil down to them. We want to judge people as good or evil based on them. And yet, all adults know intrinsically that there are no such absolutes. This is the puzzle that Equivocation is based on. Even though Shakespeare (referred to herein as "Shagspeare") knows that Robert Cecil is lying, he still wants to believe him.

The dialogue is scintillating, and the production is riveting and will be sure to cause hours of fun discussion and argument. Six remarkably adept actors play multiple roles, lead by Anthony Heald (of Boston Public and Boston Legal fame) as Shagspeare. Their character control is so good that it seems that many more than six people are at work. Since their differentiation is so distinct it is sometimes hard to notice the same actor performing a different role.

One woman, Christine Albright, plays Shagspeare's daughter. The role itself is problematic, either because it's not written large enough or because it's written too large. Shagspeare had fraternal twins and her brother twin died. Shagspeare then says he began loving his son the minute he was dead. While a startlingly truthful statement, his struggle to "see" his son in his daughter's reflection is one of the play's complexities - one that might have been left out and not caused much of a reason to miss it.

Overall, if you like Shakespeare, this is one not to miss. It may even help you understand him better when you next encounter his actual plays in other venues. For more information, go to www.seattlerep.org or call 206-443-2222.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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