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Viola (Sidney McNulty
Viola (Sidney McNulty) is disguised as a man for a scene from ‘Romeo and Juliet’ while the ensemble observes.

Review – ‘Shakespeare in Love’ at the Cannery in Santa Rosa

Jul 17, 2018
by Alexa Chipman


Torn between poetic passion and family obligations, Viola dallies with her secret dream of becoming an actor, while conscious that the reality of duty will put an end to her fleeting moments of freedom. Her unshackled escapades captivate a fictional depiction of William Shakespeare, who is mired by lack of imagination until discovering that she is the muse who can rekindle his fire of creativity. Their whirlwind love affair is set during rehearsals for ‘Romeo and Juliet’ with Shakespeare dashing off pages inspired by encounters with Viola.

A tableaux surrounding Queen Elizabeth I (Liz Jahren).

Director David Lear cultivates the story’s humor, with larger than life characters, such as Queen Elizabeth I primly marching up to demand that there be a dog onstage and Shakespeare’s halting attempts to write Sonnet 18, trailing off after “Shall I compare thee to…” with various subpar attempts to finish the line. Lear’s stylized choices transform excerpts from ‘Romeo and Juliet’ into a romantic comedy, including the death scene, although the conclusion is bitter-sweet for Viola and Shakespeare.

Isiah Carter is phenomenal as Christopher Marlowe, a rival playwright and genuine friend, who acts as Cyrano de Bergerac for a lovesick Shakespeare suffering from writer’s block. Carter also steps into the role of jaunty, self-assured Edward Alleyn who insists on the finest acting role, but is willing to sacrifice his pride for the sake of supporting the company in their hour of need.

Shakespeare (John Browning) and Viola (Sidney McNulty) share an intimate moment during rehearsal.After enduring a hopeless round of auditions for Romeo, Shakespeare is at his wit’s end until Viola appears in disguise as a man. Sidney McNulty’s fake mustache would fool no one, but her effusive enthusiasm for verse and flirtatious performance allow a suspension of disbelief. A sensitive artist, John Browning’s Shakespeare is sincerely infatuated with Viola, while suffering from spasms of jealousy at Marlowe’s successful plays being the constant admiration of actors.

Traditional Renaissance music cuts loose with contemporary dance choreography by Rachel Wynne mingling with period poses and elegant twirls, with well-timed pauses in formation. Fight choreographer Marty Pistone’s impressive fencing melee of flashing foils between opposing theater troupes energizes the production, and Tracy Hinman’s faux velvet and leather costume designs are just enough to evoke the Elizabethan era.

In the Cannery’s final season, a diverting cast has gathered, from Alan Kaplan’s doddering Henslowe to Liz Jahren’s outspoken Nurse and dynamic Queen. Roll out your picnic blanket to enjoy a plethora of laughs from‘Shakespeare in Love’ in the lot behind 6th Street Playhouse.

Shakespeare in Love

Presented by The Arlene Francis Center and Shakespeare in the Cannery
through August 5, 2018
Fri/Sat/Sun at 7:00pm (Gates open at 5:00pm)

The Cannery
52 W. 6th Street, Santa Rosa, CA 95401
(707) 528-3009

Photos courtesy of Shakespeare in the Cannery

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Alexa Chipman Live Theater reviews


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