The Book of Will is a way of thanking Shakespeare and also of acknowledging that any group of people getting together to tell a story in live performance is a bits bonkers.”
—Lauren Gunderson, playwright answering what inspired to write the play
What is it about Shakespeare’s work that makes us want to see his work, even though we know how it will end? We all know that tormented couple Romeo and Juliet die at the end. We know that Lady MacBeth loses her damn mind and dies. In tragedies, the people who wreaked havoc on those poor souls are minding their business, have to go. These sorry individuals created a world filled with deceit, lies and treachery. Who wants to live like that? The maniacal people die so that a new regime of people can fix what wasn’t broken in the first place, and live a new world with order. Sounds good to me!
Though I love the comedies, couples who are meant to be together, stay together. Personally, I would like to know what happens to the comedic couples after they leave paradise refined. Lauren Gunderson’s play comes very close bringing this idea to life.
Gunderson tells the story of the exceptional author/slayer of words William Shakespeare. In his lifetime, and what a grand life he led, wrote 39 plays, 154 sonnets, three long narrative poems, along with immeasurable contributions to other literary pieces. But, there has not been a play about the most celebrated playwright? Oh, for shame! Luckily, Gunderson has solved this problem.
The play begins three years after the Bard has passed. His trusted confidantes, who were a part of the theater company, the King’s Men, included: Richard Burbage (Frederick Stuart), British actors John Heminges (Geoff Elliot) and Henry Condell (Jeremy Rabb). It was Heminges who started working on collecting the works of Shakespeare and place them in the First Folio, titled Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies published in 1623. It seems Shakespeare is at odds with these men, even in death. Somehow, these actors are able to come together to finish what Heminges started to pay homage to the great writer. That’s where the trouble begins.
Problems ensue that the men were not prepared for. There’s no place to make copies of the pages they possess. The works are not in order. Along comes loud mouth, know it all writer Ben Jonson (4-time NAACP –winner Alex Morris). Jonson is rough around the edges, the corner, hell the whole block! Always interrupting the other men with his loving, cantankerous spirit. Morris is a joy to watch with his rapid-fire responses, he fits in perfectly with this bunch of hard-to-please actors. Jonson is that relative at the dinner table that tells everyone’s secrets, except his own.
Veteran actress Deborah Strang does an extraordinary job playing dual roles, like many of the other actors, first as Rebecca Heminges, John Heminge’s wife, then as, Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife. Strang makes her role of the wife letting the men realize that she won’t put up with any foolery. She interrogates the Kingsmen like the faithful wife of a deceased mob giant, protecting her late husband’s reputation. She is to be feared. Entering in this grand story is Kelvin Morales who opens the play as a young Hamlet. Looking more like a teen rock star, with a sweet face, he also plays two other boys, Marcus and Bernardo. Morales plays the four roles effortlessly.
The Book of Will is an original work with heart, (some) truth, lively and entertaining. Will would be proud and maybe a little jealous.
Book of Will plays at A Noise Within, located at 3352 E. Foothill Blvd, in Pasadena, ends tomorrow afternoon, Sunday, June 4th at 2 p.m. Tickets begin at $25, $18 available for students, discounts for groups of 10 or more, available login to www.anoisewtihin.org or call 626-356-3100.
Run Time and Intermission: 2 hours and one 15-minute intermission.