Hard to care about this self-aware, show-business Shakespeare

THEATER REVIEW: "Equivocation" at Victory Gardens Theater ★★

 Minita Gandhi (Judith), Marc Grapey (Shag), Matt Kahler (Armin), Arturo Soria (Sharpe) and Mark Montgomery (Cecil) in Victory Gardens' production of "Equivocation."

Minita Gandhi (Judith), Marc Grapey (Shag), Matt Kahler (Armin), Arturo Soria (Sharpe) and Mark Montgomery (Cecil) in Victory Gardens' production of "Equivocation." ( / September 27, 2012)

In the first scene of playwright Bill Cain's smug overachiever of a comedy, "Equivocation" at the Victory Gardens Theater, you feel more like you're watching some trendy self-aware sitcom than a play set in 1605. Look, there's that seasoned comic player Marc Grapey zinging sardonic one-liners as if he were playing that cynical producer Max Bialystock, as voiced by David Mamet! There's Mark Montgomery racing through the clever text as if Aaron Sorkin were sitting on his shoulder, screaming "Faster! Flatter! Snarkier!"

For a few minutes, you go along happily enough with this farcical flow. Cain, who first wrote this play for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where they need some theater nerd-friendly laughs amid all their high-art offerings, is positing a gleefully anachronistic world where Shakespeare and his fellow shareholders in the Lord Chamberlain's Men talk like they're in showbiz, circa right now, peppering his dialogue with little "Shakespeare in Love"-like gags that will make Shakespearean experts and theater insiders feel as if their membership in that sophisticated club is being fully appreciated.

The inciting-incident shtick is that an emissary of the young king (Montgomery) wants Shakespeare — here known as Shag, in another gag best appreciated by Oxfordians who've studied the controversy as to whether Shakespeare really wrote the plays attributed to him — to adapt a royal novel about the Gunpowder Plot, wherein some mysterious personages attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Shag, a savvy old hand who well knows the perils of writing on commission, smells trouble as surely as a modern playwright being handed some lousy self-published novel by a rich old board member and being told to make lemonade. But, well, power talks.

If "Equivocation" were a 90-minute romp, preferably with light-touch doppelgangers of the likes of Rupert Everett in the cast, it would be well and good. But Cain ("Stand-Up Tragedy") has loftier thematic ambitions, involving Shakespeare's exploration into the political machinations of the plot and, at times, the very real oppression and persecution of some of those in its way. Yet further, he wants us to believe that this project might somehow help Shag to deal with the death of his son (Shakespeare really did lose a son) and repair his relationship with his daughter, Judith (the very flat Minita Gandhi), who likely was illiterate in real life, but here is conceived as a brooding, oversmart teenager with a cold dad and a flaky mom who, she says, is "mudding the marriage pool for me."

And that's where director Sean Graney's production starts to collapse. Simply put, Graney initially has his actors step so far out into the world of out-and-out farce — belting out their lines non-naturalistically and at breakneck speed, and concocting all manner of physical business — it's impossible to follow along with these characters when the play turns darker and more complex. They are just not credible or vulnerable enough for us to care.

We go from Pythonesque antics to emotionalism to poignancy and back again, and when a script wants to do all of that, the director just has to build a stronger strap upon which game passengers can hang as the careening train goes lurching down the rails. None of the meta-divisions here is clean enough. And consistency is nowhere in the building; one scene actually involves a character, played by the accomplished comic Arturo Soria, getting quite severely beaten, which is really not very funny. One might be able to go to such places if the production were set up as some kind of dramedy, but when you start out watching a cross between "Spamalot" and "Don't Dress for (Your Jacobean) Dinner," you're just not able to give two shakes of a lamb's tail about whether this Shag dude can learn to channel his grieving about his lost son.

"Equivocation" is not bereft of laughs. It has some appeal as a field trip, or literary treasure hunt, for graduate students of the humanities. Nor is it without smarts: Cain quite cleverly works Shakespeare's biography (such as it is) into his yarn, poking fun at everything from the Bard's notorious pandering to the Tudors in "Richard III" to his obsession with killing off his characters — when confronted with that criticism, Shag gets defensive, arguing that war dead should not be included in the count. And there is one genuinely hilarious scene featuring the very funny Bruce A. Young's Richard, stuck playing King Lear half-naked with only some fool for company.

But in this incarnation, at least, "Equivocation" has too little heart. It lives up to its name and goes on and on and on, leaving you as eager for the exits as a fickle freshman being force-fed "Titus Andronicus."

cjones5@tribune.com

Twitter@ChrisJonesTrib

When: Through Oct. 14

Where: Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

Tickets: $20-$50 at 773-871-3000 or victorygardenstheater.org

CHICAGO
News Coverage on Dwyane Wade - CTNow
RSS feeds allow Web site content to be gathered via feed reader software. Click the subscribe link to obtain the feed URL for this page. The feed will update when new content appears on this page.

Dwyane Wade

Dwyane Wade
Dwyane Tyrone Wade, Jr. (born January 17, 1982) is an American professional basketball player for the Miami Heat. Awarded 2006 Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated, Wade has established himself as one of the most well-known and popular players in the league.
Dwyane Tyrone Wade, Jr. (born January 17, 1982) is an American professional basketball player for the Miami Heat. Awarded 2006 Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated, Wade has established himself as one of the most well-known and popular players in the league. « Show less

Top Dwyane Wade Articles

Displaying items 111-121
  • Timberwolves reportedly accept deal to trade Kevin Love to Cavaliers

    The Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers reportedly have agreed in principle to a deal that will send All-Star power forward Kevin Love to Cleveland, where he will join four-time NBA MVP LeBron James and All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving....
  • ESPN suspends Dan Le Batard for LeBron billboard

    ESPN suspends Dan Le Batard for LeBron billboard
    Don't troll LeBron James in Cleveland with billboards if you work for ESPN. Dan Le Batard, a Miami Herald columnist and ESPN television and radio host, was suspended for two days after the “world-wide leader” learned he funded a billboard in...
  • Heat add veteran guard Reggie Williams, roster at 16

    Heat add veteran guard Reggie Williams, roster at 16
      The Miami Heat continued to round out their roster Thursday, with an agreement with veteran swingman Reggie Williams.   The 6-foot-6 wing has been known for his scoring during his limited NBA exposure over the past five seasons, including three...
  • Kevin Love is headed to Cleveland Cavaliers

    Kevin Love is headed to Cleveland Cavaliers
    LeBron James got his man. Minnesota and Cleveland on Thursday reached an agreement in principle on a deal that will send Timberwolves All-Star power forward Kevin Love to the Cavaliers to join James and All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving in what...
  • ASK IRA: Are Heat doing enough with their depth?

    ASK IRA: Are Heat doing enough with their depth?
    Q: So Cleveland gets Kevin Love and we get Reggie Williams? We are done here. Nothing left to see. I guess one Williams, in Shawne Williams, is not enough. -- Julio. A: This is what life is like at the minimum. The Heat's hope clearly is that they...
  • LeBron once again destroys Magic's dreams

    LeBron once again destroys Magic's dreams
    Running off at the typewriter … Dear Orlando Magic: I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your window of opportunity has closed before it even opened. Now that NBA superstar Kevin Love is set to join fellow NBA superstars LeBron James and...
  • ASK IRA: What is most significant to Heat remaining relevant?

    ASK IRA: What is most significant to Heat remaining relevant?
    Q: Do you think that Pat Riley's image, and the Heat "family," and this being a great organization, and South Florida being "the" place to play has been somewhat tarnished by what's gone down over the summer? I think the organization may have taken a hit....
  • ASK IRA: Can Haslem again become Heat factor?

    ASK IRA: Can Haslem again become Heat factor?
    Q: What does the signing of Shawne Williams say about Udonis Haslem? I think Shawne is more of a power forward than small forward. At the moment, you can't feel too comfortable with what we have on the wing. -- Win. A: The problem for Udonis is that...
  • ASK IRA: Should Heat investigate Blatche possibility?

    ASK IRA: Should Heat investigate Blatche possibility?
    Q: Ira, I've been trying to guess what Pat Riley is planning in regards to the two remaining roster spots, but I haven't been able to. I don't believe we will trade for a shooting guard from the Knicks, but if we going for wings and bigs why not sign...
  • ASK IRA: Would Love make Cavs definitive East favorite?

    ASK IRA: Would Love make Cavs definitive East favorite?
    Q: Ira, I know the East is wide open and great games are on our way, but do you think with Kevin Love being added to LeBron James, Kyrie Irving that the Cavaliers would become the biggest force by far in the East? Could Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh...
  • ASK IRA: Is Danny Granger being overlooked?

    ASK IRA: Is Danny Granger being overlooked?
    Q: Everyone seems to have written Danny Granger off, but Granger still has an All-Star pedigree, with maybe a little left in the tank. -- Claudia, Miami. A: While there is no doubt that Dwyane Wade's return to form is the key for the re-imagined Heat,...