Equivocation, written by Bill Cain and now playing at Victory Gardens, is a whole lot of play packed into two hours. Plot points include, in no particular order, the Gun Powder plot, the strained relationship between Shakespeare (or Shag as he is called here) and his daughter, the damaging effect torture has on a country’s morality, and the essential nature of truth or rather “the ability to tell the truth in difficult times (to equivocate).” Equivocation is mostly a morality play (and does its best to link one failed terrorist plot with the more recent successful one in New York). It is also a comedy and often openly flirts with the audience (in one soliloquy the actress states how much she hates soliloquies).
Does it work? Sometimes. Equivocation is at its best in the first act with Shag (Mark Grapey) introduced as an underwhelming middle aged writer who often uses the f word to better communicate his feelings. The Great Bard is the writer, but not leader, of a theatre group with not many kind words for his new play King Leer. Veteran Shakespearian actor Bruce A. Young is excellent here as the hulking, possibly past his prime Richard who, while practicing the final scene of King Leer, wonders why he is standing on stage in a diaper. Enter the sinister Sir Robert Cecil (Mark L. Montgomery) who wishes to commission Shag to write the “true history” of the Gun Powder plot. Shag reluctantly agrees but quickly begins to suspect there is more to the story than Cecil wishes to be known. Shag is able to convince Cecil to allow him access to one of the conspirators which leads to some cruel lessons about torture and its numbing effect on society. The first act also introduces the audience to Shag’s daughter Judith (Minta Ghandi) and hints at the often complicated relationship between father and daughter.
The second act introduces us to the Jesuit priest Henry Garnet (also played by Bruce A. Young), an expert in equivocation and also a suspect in the Gun Powder Plot. It is at this point that I felt the focus of the play drift away from an examination of state sponsored fear to, amazingly enough, Shag’s relationship with his deceased son and living daughter. While still funny and creative in spurts (by the end of the play one is treated to an overacted Macbeth that exists within the greater play and involves actors switching roles in real time) the play appeared untethered and confused as to what it was attempting. Given how wonderfully inventive the play began, it was frustrating to watch it lose steam in the end.
Bottom line: Equivocation is only somewhat recommended. The acting is superb and there are some genuinely funny and thought provoking scenes throughout the play. At the same time, however, the play loses focus toward the end and ultimately misses its mark. To purchase tickets, click here: http://www.victorygardens.org/onstage/equivocation.php For more information related to this and other play, click here: http://www.theatreinchicago.com/