EQUIVOCATION at the Geffen Playhouse Review – A Play about Shakespeare, History, Politics, Religion, Family…and more!

Harry Groener as Richard Burbage and Joe Spano as William Shakespeare in Bill Cain's new play Equivocation at the Geffen Playhouse. Photo by Michael Lamont

History. Shakespeare. Theater. Politics. Family. Religion.   A play could be about any of these things.   In the case of Bill Cain’s "Equivocation" – it’s about all of them.   A complicated and intellectual piece of work that challenges its audience, "Equivocation" is worth seeing for the outstanding performances as well as for its intriguing plot and subplots.   However, it helps to know a bit before you go.   Brushing up on your Shakespeare could be an advantage for theater-goers who want to understand some things they might otherwise miss.

Connor Trinneer as Robert Cecil and Joe Spano as William Shakespeare

"Equivocation" tells the story of how Shakespeare is commissioned by King James to write the “true history” of England ’s infamous Gunpowder Plot. With numerous contemporary parallels, it is a complex play that is both classic and relevant.

Connor Trinneer, Brian Henderson and Harry Groener rehearsing a version of King Lear. Photo by Michael Lamont

The setting is London in 1605.   William Shakespeare, here referred to as "Shagspeare, " is ordered to write a play about current events. The problem is that the king’s version is more fiction than fact – and the actors are afraid they will lose, not only their jobs, but their heads!

Joe Spano as Shakespeare and Patrick J. Adams as Tom Wintour

The story is told in modern dress, with the actors playing dual roles, and there is quite an assortment of them: the Shakespearean troupe at the Globe Theater; the characters they portray in the plays; the king and servants; and Shagspeare and his daughter, who we learn was ignored by her father because her beloved twin brother died instead of her.

Joe Spano as Shakespeare and Troian Bellisario as his daughter Judith.

In the course of the play, the characters take us through the process of the famed bard writing the King’s project, amidst the politically charged climate of the times.   We also witness the Royal family dynamic, Shagspeare’s family dynamic, and the trial of a Priest for his role in the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the Parliament. No, it’s not a mini-series, but it could be!

It’s a bold and challenging treatment of all these subjects, and it is likewise challenging for the audience to absorb it all.    Amidst the intellectualism and historical facts, are some dead-on funny acknowledgements about actors, writers, and families as they exist today. Witticisms punctuate the writing and provide knowing laughs for the audience. 

Patrick J. Adams as King James and Connor Trinneer as Robert. Photo by Michael Lamont

Overall, it is an intriguing premise; however, the story isn’t always quite clear enough. The first act is sometimes difficult to assimilate, but the second act picks up the pace, and is more engaging, with the characters and relationships more interesting. The end of the piece has especially provocative staging where the daughter wraps her dead father in a shroud. 

"Equivocation" was ably directed by David Esbjornson, former artistic director of Seattle Repertory. The exceptional cast includes Joe Spano, (best known as FBI Agent Tobias Fornell on NCIS, and as Lt. Henry Goldblume on the series Hill Street Blues), Harry Groener, Patrick J. Adams, Troian Bellisario, Brian Henderson, and Connor Trinneer, (best remembered as Trip on Star Trek: Enterprise; or Michael, on StarGate: Atlantis.)

Brian Henderson as Armin and Connor Trinneer as Nate playing Macbeth's witches. Photo by Michael Lamont

"Equivocation" is an apt title for the piece, with the audience going through some of the same feelings expressed in the theme. Is it worth seeing? Unequivocally!   For fine performances in a literate, intelligent and thoughtful piece!  Program notes, including the playwright’s story of how he came to write the play, are quite interesting and useful for appreciating the depth of the subject matter and making it more accessible.

The full company of Bill Cain's new play Equivocation on stage at the Geffen Playhouse: Harry Groener, Brian Henderson, Troian Bellisario, Connor Trinneer (top), Patrick J. Adams and Joe Spano. Photo by Michael Lamont

Run time of the show is approximately two hours and 45 minutes including one 15 minute intermission.

The Geffen Playhouse is a wonderful venue, presenting a variety of outstanding classic and contemporary plays, provocative new works and musicals each year.

Written by Bill Cain
Directed by David Esbjornson
November 10 – December 20, 2009

Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Ave.
Los Angeles, California 90024

Ticket Info

Tickets ($35 to $75) are on sale at the Geffen Playhouse box office (310) 208-5454, online at www.geffenplayhouse.com and at all Ticketmaster outlets. Student rush tickets are available one hour prior to curtain for $20.

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