Wilmington Star News
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In playful ‘Shakespeare Inc.,’ the Bard’s works are written by committee
By John Staton Star, News Staff, Posted Sep 12, 2018 at 8:35 AM
The dinner theater comedy by Don Fried is scheduled to resume Sept. 21 at Wilmington’s TheatreNOW.
Four Wilmington theater companies put on plays by William Shakespeare on a regular or semi-regular basis, five if you count the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Department of Theatre.
One of those companies is TheatreNOW, which has grown an audience for its “Shakespeare Brunch” series of staged readings. Perhaps building on that success, TheatreNOW’s latest production is “Shakespeare Inc.,” a farcical comedy written and directed by area resident Don Fried about whether ol’ Bill really wrote all those plays.
The comedy is pretty mild, for the most part, but Fried cooks up a conspiracy that’s competently acted and plausible enough to be intriguing, with a rogue’s gallery of well-known, and not-so-well-known, authors teaming up to concoct work under Shakespeare’s name. After having performances on Sept. 14 and 15 canceled due to Hurricane Florence, “Shakespeare Inc.” is scheduled to resume Sept. 21 and run weekends through Oct. 6.
Over the years, dozens, maybe even hundreds, of scholars have theorized that any number of people might’ve been the “true” authors of plays attributed to Shakespeare. If you can’t tell the players without a scorecard, make sure to pay attention to the character bios that are projected on the screen above the stage before the show.
There’s Christopher Marlowe, a famous author in his own right, and Edward de Vere, a nobleman with a passion for writing who didn’t want his name associated with the lower-class types of the 16th century London theater. More famous names in the mix include Ben Jonson, Francis Bacon and even Queen Elizabeth I, while the lesser-known Mary Sidney Herbert and William Stanley are drawn into Fried’s comic plot as well.
The play starts and ends with current-day descendants of Shakespeare, Bacon, et al converging for a kind of theatrical family reunion where descendants of Marlowe and Sidney discover a text laying out the story that unfolds, taking us back to 1591 and London’s Mermaid Tavern.
Lacking “pecuniary wherewithal,” a notorious but broke Christopher Marlowe (the deep-voiced Braxton Lathan Williams, compelling) offers to help a doltish young actor named Shaksper (Joshua Drew, convincingly clueless) — later christened Shakespeare for the anonymous, spear-carrying soldier roles he tends to get — shape his appallingly bad story of a boy and his horse, Winnie.
Soon enough, Marlowe is drawn into a lucrative scheme with de Vere (a believably worked-up Hal Cosec) and Stanley (Rich Deike, all business) to put out work under a then-unknown Shakespeare’s name.
This type of thing has been done before, and frankly better, in Amy Freed’s whip-smart 2001 farce “The Beard of Avon,” which imagined de Vere to be the author of Shakespeare’s plays. But Fried’s approach is thoughtful, if a tad sedate. And while it’s funny when the passionate de Vere tells Marlowe he’s working on a script titled “Controlling an Intemperate Woman,” Fried goes back to the punny well of Shakespearean titles a little too often.
The show comes with a Brit-themed meal from TheatreNOW chef Denise Gordon that starts with a nicely creamy cauliflower, carrot and parsnip soup with oyster crackers for added texture.An oven-baked fish and chips was a tasty, and healthier, take on the pub-grub classic, and the beef tips braised in Worcestershire and ale were fantastic. A lentil, apple and roasted veggie pie topped with a massively dry crust round was a promising idea, but largely flavorless.
Want to go?
What: “Shakespeare, Inc.” by Don Fried, presented by TheatreNOW.
When: 6 p.m. doors, 7 p.m. show Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 6. (Canceled Sept. 14-15 for Hurricane Florence.)
Where: TheatreNOW, 19 S. 10th St., Wilmington
Info: Tickets are $42, includes dinner and show but not beverages or tip. $18-$24 show only.
Details: 910-399-3669 or TheatreWilmington.com
Before the show Fried told the TheatreNOW audience that, in theory, the events of his play could’ve happened. That makes in interesting, but “Shakespeare Inc.” ultimately works better as an intellectual exercise than it does as a comedy.
Contact John Staton at 910-343-2343 or John.Staton@StarNewsOnline.com