Writer’s block happens to the best of us, even the prolific William Shakespeare. That lull in creativity is the hypothetical premise that starts all the action in Virginia Rep’s current production of Shakespeare in Love.
Based on the popular 1998 film of the same name starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes, this delicious piece of fiction has Shakespeare in desperate search of a muse who will help him ramp up his creative spirit. He finds the perfect muse in Viola, a strong, determined young woman who isn’t afraid to don a fake mustache, wig and men’s clothing to defy gender norms of the day and play a man in one of Shakespeare’s productions.
Unaware that she is a woman, Shakespeare casts her in his play. When he does discover Violet’s true identity he also learns that she has been unwillingly bequeathed to the self-absorbed Lord Wessex, a man who is more interested in her fortune than her well-being.
Shakespeare falls madly in love with Viola even though she warns him she plans to marry Lord Wessex. The tangled love affair between Shakespeare and Viola is laced with confusion, havoc, and hilarity, but it turns out to be just what Shakespeare needs to put pen to paper once again.
Virginia Rep’s ever-moving, fast-paced production is a monumental testament to teamwork. The actors’ movements are precise and intentional, but look effortless and natural. The energy on stage is palpable throughout the more than two-and-a-half hour production.
The large cast has a long list of skilled actors that churn out great performances. Joseph Bromfield is quite villainous as Lord Wessex, an evil snake of a man. He brings a tongue-in-cheek wit to Lord Wessex’s sleazy nature.
The award for chemistry goes to Brandon Carter who plays Will Shakespeare and Betsy Struxness, Viola. Their spirited interactions on stage sizzle with excitement and intensity. Their honest portrayals are witty, spunky, downright fun to watch.
Set designer Ron Keller and costume designer Aaron Mastin are also stars in this production. Keller’s twirling multi-tiered set is the perfect backdrop for this romp through history. It becomes part of the action as the actors help swirl it around from scene to scene.
Mastin’s stellar costumes are breathtakingly beautiful and authentic to the time period. Queen Elizabeth’s gown looks as if the Queen herself had walked off the canvas of a portrait. It’s that realistic.
The light and airy production is also laced with many lines from Shakespeare’s works. Keep an ear out and try to recognize them.
Shakespeare in Love is a great start to Virginia Rep’s new season. It’s quick-moving, filled with humor, and animal lovers will appreciate the acting talents of the adorable white pooch on stage.
The show runs through October 8 at Virginia Rep’s November Theatre. For showtimes and tickets, go here.