One June 13 along with Joseph, my husband and many good friends from the Pawling Shakespeare Club (founded in1898), l attended a preview performance of The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson, directed by Davis McCallum, Artistic Director, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. We were all looking forward to seeing this production particularly because Dan Hasse, Assistant Director had visited with us at our luncheon the day before to discuss the Book Of Will’s birth and development.
The lights went up. The entire ensemble entered with exquisite gusto from the Theater Tent’s expansive lawn. The set, the night sky and the Hudson River. We were, at once, taken back to the Elizabethan era by way of a London Tavern.
The Book of Will is a wonderful story about friendship and devotion. It is a story about William Shakespeare, the playwright, actor and most important, a loving person respected by his family and friends for his goodness as well as his brilliant literary works. The play is also about the people who were close to him, their relationships with Will and one another.. memories, laughter and tears.
Richard Burbage, celebrated actor and builder and partner in the Globe Theatre, was played with empathy and affection by Stephen Paul Johnson. He began the quest to preserve Will’s work. Alice Heminges ( Kerry Warren), and her parents Rebecca (Mary Bacon) and John (Sean Mcnall), Elizabeth(Krystal Lucas) and Henry Condell(Kurt Rhoads) all who gave outstanding performances portrayed how they became central in the process of collecting and preserving Will’s works while overcoming the many obstacles to their goal. They all persisted no matter the hardship. “If we do not, who will” asks Henry Condell? Later, Ben Jonson, admirably played also by Stephen Paul Johnson, praises Will’s plays and expresses that he is “deeply touched by them”.
Individual performances by cast members were outstanding. It seemed as if each player could have their own story. The entire production was beautifully enhanced by the attractive set, lighting and costume design. All stage movement was expertly performed while voice and speech enunciation by the actors, excellent. Scene changes were smooth and well timed. Suddenly, just when we thought, the play couldn’t get any better, the stage was transformed ( in split-second timing) into a copy room with ropes strewn across the staging area from which huge cloths containing lines from Shakespeare’s works were hung across the stage creating some visually engaging staging and acting. .
Ms. Gunderson writes of the people in William Shakespeare’s life, his family and friends with profound respect , admiration and tenderness. The quest to publish and preserve William Shakespeare’s works (which at that time, had never been done before) was of monumental historical significance and, when sprinkled with some delightful anachronisms, The Book of Will is a scholarly and colossal play. Praises to Artistic Director Davis McCallum who has, along with Ms. Gunderson, created an exciting, artistic masterpiece for the Theater.
The Book of Will is an amazing theatrical experience with a “Heart of Gold” from curtain to bows! The Book of Will continues through July 28, 2017. For further information and tickets to all HVSF offerings this summer, please contact the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival at Boscobel House and Gardens, Garrison, NY. Website: hvshakespeare.org Telephone: 845-265-9575.