Preview: Shakespeare In Love At Seattle Shakespeare Company

Rafael Jordan in Shakespeare In Love by Seattle Shakespeare Co (photo by Ulman)

Love is in the air at Seattle Shakespeare Company. They close their 2017-2018 season with Shakespeare in Love, a new stage adaptation of Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s 1998 Academy Award-winning film.

The play tells the fictional story of young Will Shakespeare and the woman who inspired him. Originally produced by Disney Theatrical Productions and Sonia Friedman Productions, the film was adapted for the stage by Lee Hall, with music by Paddy Cuneen.

Directed by SSC’s Artistic Director, George Mount, this marks the Washington State premiere of the adaptation. SSC’s production of Shakespeare in Love is part of Seattle Celebrates Shakespeare, a city-wide festival honoring The Bard, and runs May 2nd-June 3rd at the Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center.

If you’ve seen the film, you know what to expect–a witty, romantic, and hopefully charming make-believe tale behind the creation of one of the greatest love stories ever told.

Shakespeare in Love is a love letter to the Bard and life in the theater.

It’s the late 16th century, Will Shakespeare is in dire straits, struggling to complete his next comedy, “Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter,” He’s penniless and indebted to two demanding producers, and now the young playwright has a severe case of writer’s block. That is, until he meets beautiful Viola de Lesseps, daughter of a wealthy merchant. Her fiery passion for poetry and drama has her secretly longing to be an actor. So she binds her breasts, disguises herself as a man named Thomas Kent, auditions, and wins the role of Romeo in Will’s new play.

But she soon reveals all to the dreamy playwright, and the two begin a passionate love affair, inspiring Will to write one of his most famous plays– Romeo and Juliet.

Chiara Motley, Raphael Jordan and Brian Claudio Smith in Seattle Shakespeare Company’s production of “Shakespeare In Love” (Photo by Ulman)

Chiara Motley, Rafael Jordan and Brian Claudio Smith in Seattle Shakespeare Company’s production of “Shakespeare In Love” (Photo by Ulman)

Meanwhile, Viola’s social-climbing father has promised her to the stuffy Lord Wessex in order to gain a title for their family. Under the veil of secrecy, Will and Viola’s passionate love affair becomes the basis of the very play he is writing. With opening night and Viola’s wedding day fast approaching, will these two star-crossed lovers meet the same fate as their onstage characters?

Mount and his design team will start with a base of Elizabethan and Tudor-inspired designs, but will add a thematic theatrical element. The set will feature text from Shakespeare’s plays in its design, and costume pieces will literally have Shakespeare’s words and phrases written on them.

“For Will, the creative world is all around him, except that he’s blocked and just not seeing it,” says Mount. “Through love he opens up and, like a magpie, starts picking things out of the air and out of his environment to fuel his artistic, creative self.

“Delightful, charming, romantic, humorous, this play is a celebration of what we are as an organization–dedicated to the words of William Shakespeare, and a celebration of what we do as theatre artists,” Mount continues. “This play is about finding and expressing your truest self. And it’s not just Will and Viola; so many of the characters find their voice through the process of theater and art.”

Shakespeare aficionados will enjoy the playful references to Shakespeare’s plays and background, implying this fictional story is responsible for his rise to prominence as an Elizabethan playwright.

Some of Seattle’s favorite thespians make up the cast. As Viola de Lesseps and William Shakespeare, actors Chiara Motley and Rafael Jordan play the lovers at the heart of the story. Tim Gouran plays Will’s colleague and friend, Kit Marlowe, while Suzanne Bouchard plays Will’s monarch and patron Queen Elizabeth I. Bradford Farwell plays the owner/manager of the Rose Theatre Philip Henslowe. The newly betrothed husband of Viola, Lord Wessex, will be played by Brian Claudio Smith, and MJ Sieber plays Richard Burbage, the lead actor of the Chamberlain’s Men (a rival theatre troupe).

Pete Hinds-Fickes in Seattle Shakespeare Company’s production of “Shakespeare In Love”

Pete Hinds-Fickes in Seattle Shakespeare Company’s production of “Shakespeare In Love”

And making his stage debut is 12-year-old Pete Hinds-Fickes, a mixture of Harlequin, Great Dane, Pitbull, and maybe some hound. He plays the role of Spot and is part of Burbage Company, performing Two Gentlemen of Verona for the Queen Elizabeth I. Yes, that play has a dog in it.

Pete may not have many scenes, but he could very well steal the show. When he was playing Hamlet on Broadway, the late Richard Burton remarked, “Never act with children, George Rose (who played the gravedigger), and animals.”

Pete remains undaunted by this observation. He’s 12 years old, friendly, smart, and he’s rehearsing his role diligently. No soliloquy, but he does beg the question, to do the trick or to not do the trick. We will just have wait and see.

Seattle Shakespeare Company’s production of Shakespeare in Love runs May 2nd through June 3rd at Cornish Playhouse (formerly the Intiman Theatre); performances Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30pm, with selected Saturdays at 2pm, selected Sundays at 2pm and 7:30pm, and a special inter-generational matinee at 10:30am on Wednesday, May 16; tickets range from $32-$58; discount tickets are available for groups of ten or more. For tickets, call the Seattle Shakespeare Company box office at (206) 733-8222 or go online at www.seattleshakespeare.org.

The Cast
Suzanne Bouchard (Queen Elizabeth)
Heather Cook (ensemble)
Tom Dang (Peter)
Keith Dahlgren (Hugh Fennyman)
Gretchen Douma (Nurse/Mistress Quickly)
Chris Ensweiler (Edmund Tilney/Sir Robert de Lesseps)
Bradford Farwell (Philip Henslowe)
Brandon Felker (Ralph/Lady in Waiting)
Matt Gilworth (Wabash/Frees)
Tim Gouran(Kit Marlowe)
Pete Hinds-Fickes (Spot)
Saxton Johnson (Ned Alleyn)
Rafael Jordan (William Shakespeare)
Chiara Motley (Viola de Lesseps)
Julian Mudge-Burns (John Webster)
Glen Peak (ensemble)
MJ Sieber (Richard Burbage)
Arlando Smith (Robin/Lady Capulet/boatman)
Brian Claudio Smith (Lord Wessex)
Zachary Taxdahl (ensemble)
Dylan Zucati (Sam/Lady in Waiting).

The Production Team
George Mount (Director)
Craig Wollam (scenic design)
Doris Black (costume design)
Roberta Russell (lighting design)
Robertson Witmer (sound design)
Robin Macartney (Props Designer)
Andrew Murray (Choreography)
Peter Dylan O’Connor (Fight Choreography)

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About Starla Smith

Starla Smith is a career journalist, writing features for such publications as The New Yorker, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Daily News, The Des Moines Register, Vibe and a prize-winning Gannett Newspaper. She helped launch Theater Week Magazine and eventually became its publisher. As a regular contributor to Playbill, her interviews and photos were featured in Playbill and Playbill-on-line. Smith was featured in the New York Times "Style" section for her "Word Portraits," specialized tributes, speeches, and presentation profiles. And she covered theater and features for City Search, Digital City, and the Tena Duberry WOW! Radio show. She previously served as astrology guru for Out Magazine, and she hastens to assure her readers that "Starla" is indeed her real name.

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