Shakespeare struggled from writer’s block, too. Or, at least, that’s how the Fine Arts Center imagines it in their production of “Shakespeare in Love.”
The production, based on the 1998 screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, fictionalizes Shakespeare’s life in 1593 London. Shakespeare, played by Seth Dhonau, is struggling with his latest work, “Romeo and Juliet,” until he meets Viola De Lesseps, an aristocratic woman arranged to be married who has a passion for theater and for the up-and-coming playwright. De Lesseps, played by Carley Cornelius, dresses up as a boy, auditions for Shakespeare, and lands the lead role. In classic “Twelfth Night” fashion, Shakespeare falls in love with De Lesseps, and things get messy.
The plot includes century-old feuds, sword fights, visits from ghosts, star-crossed lovers, and a play within a play — conventions all featured in Shakespeare’s works. It doesn’t contain too many surprises, and as a romantic comedy-drama, most of the action lies within subtle glances and wit. But the play has enough going for it to make it worth a visit.
All of the cast members are talented, and Dhonau and Cornelius are especially captivating in their respective roles. The two are convincing as star-crossed lovers, and their stage presence together is undeniable. Individually, their performances are just as strong. Cornelius, whose character is the lone woman in a Renaissance-era theater company, plays her part with surprising power, making De Lesseps an active participant in the unraveling events. Dhonau gives Shakespeare a boyish charm, but he is slightly overshadowed by Cornelius — a feat in and of itself given the play’s time period.
For such a complex production, everything runs remarkably smoothly under the direction of Scott RC Levy. The changes between elaborate costumes are quick, and the actors, who appear to move everything on and off stage themselves, do so without drawing any attention away from the plot.
Barely visible in the top corner of the stage are a conductor and three live musicians: one on violin, one on guitar, and one on a variety of woodwind instruments. Together, they play a live score of 46 individual pieces of music. The stage itself and theater are fairly intimate, but the live music makes the space feel much larger. The score adds a welcome intensity to the pretty mild drama.
“Shakespeare in Love” is by no means a thriller, but it keeps the audience fully engrossed for the full two-hour run time. It’s easygoing and heartwarming, and it brings new energy to Shakespeare’s work.
Colorado College students can receive free rush tickets for available seats to any FAC production an hour before showtime with their gold cards. “Shakespeare in Love” will be playing on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays until Oct. 21. It’s a fun, free way to spend an afternoon, and you’ll leave with a smile on your face.