Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Shakespeare in Love
Cleveland Play House
Review by David Ritchey

Also see Mark's reviews of Last of the Boys, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Woman in Black

Marina Shay and Charlie Thurston
Photo by Roger Mastroianni
William Shakespeare offers the audience a wonderful, delightful confusion of theater, romance, local theater customs and love. As Shakespeare in Love opens, Shakespeare (Charlie Thurston) is attempting to write what will becomeRomeo and Juliet. However, he is suffering from writer's block. He is confused, but so are most of the supporting characters. He and several minor characters read, trade and negotiate hoping to find a finished script they can open in one of their theaters, amuse the audience, and turn a few dollars to keep a theater open and food on the table.

In another part of the playing area, the lovely Viola De Lesseps (Marina Shay), later Juliet, awakes to the call of her nurse (Tina Stafford). In a brilliant touch of double casting, Stafford plays both the nurse and Queen Elizabeth. Stafford is tall, angular and perfect as the nurse. But, suddenly, it's time for the Queen to make an entrance and what a queen she is—she is regal, gold-encrusted and royal. The playwrights give her wonderful lines that make it seem she has read all of Shakespeare's plays, including those he has not yet written.

The screenplay for the 1998 film was written by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard (they shared an Academy Award), and Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) adapted the property for the stage. The script is peppered with names familiar to theater history from the Shakespeare era: Henslowe, Ned Alleyn, Kit Marlowe, Burbage, and Webster. Writers of Shakespeare-era theater sought to provide productions for the public. However, the law at the time prohibited women from appearing on the stage. So, Viola disguises herself as a man and takes the stage in a male role.

But love triumphs (even if it is Romeo and Juliet). And, Will and Viola find happiness and a successful career in the theater. Charlie Thurston as Will and Marina Shay as Viola may be the most beautiful couple to walk on any stage. They are good looking, talented actors, and we know all is well and will end well.

Much of the success of this product is owed to Lex Liang, who gets the credit for the set design and the costume design. The set is based on the Elizabethan stage traditions. The set, of course, is not a complete circle, but has enough of a circle to remind the audience of the Elizabethan globe. The playing area has the upper levels to provide the players with addition playing areas, with stairs for quick movement and plenty of variety of movement.

Liang designed spectacular costumes for all the cast. The men wear clothing that evokes Elizabethan England, and yet, I could see ripped blue jeans and a few T-shirts. The women wear long gowns and, of course, the queen is dressed in the elegance one would expect to see on royalty. Wessex (Peter Hargrave) wears the traditional Elizabethan garb (he is rich or pretends to be rich) and is about to propose to Viola and receive a large dowry from her father.

Drew Fracher (fight director) trained Thurston and Hargrave for energetic, powerful fight scenes. Stage fight scenes have become more violent in the past few years, sometimes seeming to stop all breathing in the theater—good, exciting action.

In this production, Nigel plays Spot, a well-trained dog who steals his every scene. Nigel is well-trained by William Berloni and quickly becomes an audience favorite.

As director, Laura Kepley brings this fast-paced, comedic bit of love, romance and wonderful mistakes to her audience and everyone has a good time. Kepley is a master at making the good times roll and reaching out for comedic stage business. She finds the humor in a bit of dialogue and suddenly produces a laughter-studded bit of stage business. If she's directing a good script, you're sure of a great time in the theater.

This Shakespeare in Love is a successful production that demands the audience's attention.

Through through October 1, 2017, at Cleveland Play House, Playhouse Square. For ticket information, call 216-241-6000 or visit

Screenplay by: Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard
Adapted for the stage by: Lee Hall

Nol/Lambert/Boatman, Ensemble: Lavour Addison
Maestro/ Musician/ Ensemble: Maestro/ Musician/ Ensemble: Drew Bastian
Webster/Ensemble: Tommy Bilczo
Tilney/ Peter/ Caitling/ Ensemble: Paul Bugallo
Mistress Quickly/ Musician/ Ensemble: Mariah Burks
Henslowe/Ensemble: Donald Carrier
Sam Ensemble: Kyle Cherry
Molly/ Ensemble: Sarah Cuneo
Ned Alley/ Frees/ Ensemble: Grant Goodman
Wessex/ Musician/ Ensemble: Peter Hargrave
Kate/ Ensemble: Megan Medley
Kit Marlowe/ Ensemble: Andhy Mendez
Robin/ Ensemble: Randy Merrill
Sir Robert de Lesseps/ Wabash/ Ensemble: Allen O'Reilly
Burbage/ Adam/ Ensemble: Brian Owen
Ralph/ Ensemble: Chuck Richie
Viola de Lesseps: Marina Shay
Nurse/ Queen Elizabeth/ Ensemble: Tina Stafford
Will Shakespeare: Charlie Thurston
Fennyman/ Ensemble: Evan Zes
Spot: Nigel

Scenic and Costume Design: Lex Liang
Lighting Designer: Russell H. Champa
Sound Designer/ Composer: Jane Shaw
Fight Director: Drew Fracher
Musical Director: Nathan Motto
Choreographer: David Shimotakahara
Voice, Speech and Text Coach: Thom Jones
Animals trained by William Berloni
Wig Master: Wigs and Whiskers
Director: Laura Kepley

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