Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Book of Will
As Gunderson shows and director Ryan Rilette depicts in fine detail, the theater of Shakespeare's time had no concept of plays as lasting works. Copyright did not exist, so playwrights wrote "sides" containing individual parts to keep other companies from presenting pirated versions of the work. The original publisher owned the rights to the text, which might or might not be what the author had in mind. This stirs up questions of how many other masterpieces have been lost through the centuries, and who is the final arbiter.
The idea of preserving Shakespeare's plays after his death begins with two members of the playwright's company, the King's MenJohn Heminges (Todd Scofield), a former actor who went into management, and Henry Condell (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh)and supported by leading actor Richard Burbage (Mitchell Hébert), whose memory serves as the main repository of some of the plays. As they watch other companies butcher Hamlet, they decide to create a permanent record of their friend's accomplishments.
On Paige Hathaway's spacious two-level set, which encompasses numerous Tudor-era settings, the men and the outspoken, supportive women in their lives (most notably Marni Penning as Heminges' wife) sift through all the scraps of paper they can find, assisted by the company's scribe (Christopher Michael Richardson) and Shakespeare's fellow author Ben Jonson (Hébert) and, eventually, an unscrupulous publisher (Michael Russotto). The result is the First Folio, the standard version of the plays in a single large volume.
Rilette has done great, thoughtful work with his actors, helping them create sharp and realistic charactersmany of them, more than one. Kimberly Gilbert is both Condell's passionate wife and the woman referred to as Shakespeare's "Dark Lady," while Hébert excels as both the proud Burbage (he knows he's the best at what he does, so why should he be modest?) and the somewhat dissipated Jonson, and Katie Kleiger shimmers as Heminges' intellectual daughter.
Round House Theatre