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A Romantic Roller Coaster

August 31, 2017
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Playhouse Artistic Director Blake Robison launches the new Playhouse season with a grand-scale romance. He took a few minutes before heading into rehearsals for Shakespeare in Love to discuss the fun of journeying back in time to Elizabethan London and of exploring the magic of first love.

What excites you most about opening the season with Shakespeare in Love and about directing the show yourself?

I love to open the season with a big, epic production. This production features 19 actors (and a dog!) in beautiful period costumes telling a magical, entertaining story. It’s what the Playhouse does best. As a lover of Shakespeare and a fan of the film, I look forward to diving into Elizabethan times in such a fun way.

How have the writers adapted the film’s sprawling story for the stage?

The stage version sticks very closely to the original screenplay. That said, adaptor Lee Hall has opened it up a bit for the stage. Some of the characters, like rival poet Christopher Marlowe, have been expanded. There’s even a riff on Shakespeare’s famous “balcony scene” that harkens to a similar one in another classic play, Cyrano de Bergerac. I think this is a story that belongs on stage.

As with the film, the stage version of Shakespeare in Love features a story-within-a-story, as the romance between Will Shakespeare and Viola de Lesseps plays out against the creation of Romeo and Juliet. How do you think this parallel structure adds to the storytelling?

It makes it personal and immediate. Will and Viola are real—not the playwright’s imagined teenagers—and they fall in love right in front of us. The audience gets swept up in their emotional roller coaster. We see ourselves in them. We remember our own first loves. Because of that, the play takes Shakespeare off of the pedestal and humanizes him for us.

How have you envisioned the look of the show for the Playhouse?

This is a very period-specific story. We are in 1593 London, so all of the scenery and costumes are traditional and faithful to the times. Our set designer, Tim Mackabee, has envisioned a recreation of an Elizabethan theatre on the Marx stage! It’s not exactly Shakespeare’s Globe but it borrows from that famous structure, as well as others of the time, including The Rose and The Curtain, both of which are mentioned in the play.

The script features numerous allusions to Shakespeare’s other plays and writing, as well as nods to conspiracies about the playwright himself. What do they add to the overall experience for Shakespeare fans? How about for those less familiar with his works?

For lovers of the Bard, the play is filled with clever allusions and references to Shakespeare’s many characters and plays. For example, the dog on stage is named Spot, which leads to someone trying to call him with “Out, damn Spot!”—a repurposing of Lady Macbeth’s famous words. It’s pure delight for Shakespeare nerds like me. For those less familiar with the Bard, you may miss a reference or two, but you’ll still be swept up in the romance and adventure of the story. There’s plenty to enjoy for all audiences, including teenagers.

To learn more about the Playhouse production of Shakespeare in Love, visit the production detail page