In Review: ‘Shakespeare In Love’ a surprise of entertainment at the Festival

By Rachelle Hughes
Iron County Today

Only three theatres in the United States currently have permission to produce Lee Hall’s stage adaptation of Marc Norman’s and Tom Stoppard’s screenplay “Shakespeare in Love” and Cedar City’s own Utah Shakespeare Festival is one of those theatres.

Despite the rarity of this show on stages in the U.S., I came to the Festival’s opening night of “Shakespeare in Love” with low expectations. I just was not super excited. Halfway through the play I was still on the fence. As the play’s final scene ended I was smiling. Turns out I liked it, like I would see it again liked it.

Will Shakespeare has writer’s block on his new manuscript “Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter.” With the theatre world breathing down his neck, Will needs inspiration. His friend and professional rival Kit Marlowe gives him a few poetical nudges but it is not until he meets Viola de Lesseps that his developing play starts to find its true poetry and adventure.

Viola is the up and coming bard’s biggest fan and wants nothing more than to act. Unfortunately, it is illegal in Elizabethan England for women to appear on the stage. So, Viola takes on an alter ego as the young man Thomas Kent and auditions for Romeo. When Kit and Will visit Viola’s home to offer Thomas Kent the role of Romeo, Will sees Viola without her disguise and falls in love. Viola’s night is not going so well as she is attending a ball where she discovers that her father has promised her to Virginia plantation owner Lord Wessex as his wife.

Will, however, is enamored and visits Viola’s balcony later that night accompanied by his fellow playwright, Kit Marlowe. What ensues is a scene with echoes of Romeo and Juliet. Thomas Kent shows up for rehearsals the next day and wows the entire cast with his acting skills. Eventually, Will discovers Kent is actually Viola and they fall into a passionate affair. Will found his muse and while not all is happy endings for Will — Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter becomes the success Romeo and Juliet, inspired by his love for Viola.

My conversion to the Oscar award winning-story line probably has something to do with the lead actors. Quinn Mattfeld as Will Shakespeare is genius and his leading lady Betsy Mugavero as Viola de Lesseps is equally fantastic. I am sure it can be daunting to take on the more than legendary bard but Mattfeld’s impeccable comedic timing and stage presence brings Shakespeare to life.

But Mattfeld and Mugavero is not the only relationship with chemistry on the stage. Shane Kenyon’s Kit Marlowe (Shakespeare’s playwright contemporary) is the perfect friend and companion for Mattfeld’s young Will. Their camaraderie was one of my favorite elements of the play. Who knows if they were truly friends in real life. But now I certainly hope so.

This wonderful play that brings not only Shakespeare to life but the theater life of Elizabethan England is filled with a cast of talented actors who bring humor and drama to the Engelstad Theatre this season. The only thing that truly marred this experience for me was the four-person chorus singing interludes that were a jarring intrusion to the flow of the story. There were only a few times they made sense to the story line and at least once they seemed a little off in their harmonies. Fortunately, the story, the actors, the beautifully lighted set (Donna Ruzika, lighting designer) were enough to overcome these odd moments. It is possible that I will never see Shakespeare the same or at least not Romeo and Juliet.

On a sidenote: There is innuendo and adult language in this play. I would not recommend it for young children.

For more information or to purchase tickets visit bard,org or call 800-playtix. The regional premiere of Shakespeare in Love runs through Sept. 8.

PHOTO: A scene from the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2017 production of Shakespeare in Love. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2017.)

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