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Regional Reviews: Seattle

An Unequivocal Cheer for Equivocation at Seattle Repertory Theatre

Also see our review of Seattle Men's Chorus' Santa Baby

Jonathan Haugen and Anthony Heald
Fearing disappointment after hearing the enthusiastic raves from a trusted friend, in addition to an esteemed fellow Talkin' Broadway reviewer, I am pleased to say that Bill Cain's luminous new play Equivocation—which premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival last summer—lives up to the advance praise, and then some, in its stint at the Seattle Rep. The same cast, and director, OSF top dog Bill Rauch are responsible for the warm, funny and illuminating slice of neo-history now playing to appreciative crowds.

With so many unanswered questions about the Bard of Avon, here dubbed Will "Shagspeare," a play like this, which hypothesizes and ruminates over the man, was long overdue. We had Shakespeare in Love at the flicks, now we get Shakespeare in hot water with Equivocation. Playwright Cain and sublime veteran stage and screen actor Anthony Heald create a blood and bones incarnation of the legendary dramatist, pitted against King James I's calculating and cagey Sir Robert Cecil, who insists Will write a pro-monarchy play about the then recent (1605) Gunpowder Plot by the Catholic rebels who intended to overthrow King James by blowing up Parliament House. Ultimately, the play he comes up with is "the Scottish play," aka Macbeth, which indeed does have certain allusions to the rebellion.

With portions of history, humor, sadness, and snippets of Shakespeare doled out by the playwright, there is, to borrow from a latter-day genus dramatist "something for everyone" in Equivocation. Heald and his splendid fellow ensemble members (most of whom play multiple roles) are sublime. Cain has written Cecil as a fellow you love to hate, and Jonathan Haugen is electrifying in the role. Richard Elmore, John Tufts and Gregory Linington are able farceurs indeed playing Will's theatrical cronies Richard Burbage, Richard Sharpe and Robert Armin, respectively. Tufts is also a riot as the preening King James, and as convicted gunpowder plotting priest Henry Garnet, Elmore is quite riveting. Christen Albright has the least well-developed role as Will's daughter Judith (twin to his deceased and much-preferred son), but still scores some touching moments. Heald, like all actors of his caliber, is the anchor of the show, and along with Haugen it would be great if Manhattan Theatre club cast them in their planned New York production.

The set design by Christopher Acebo, by virtue of its clean, spare simplicity, allows for seamless jumps between the Old Globe, the prison, Cecil's digs, James' court, and other locales. Christopher Akerlind's lighting heightens the drama without calling attention to itself. Deborah M. Dryden's costumes are ideal embodiments of the couture of the various stratas of English society they represent.

Equivocation is the richest theatrical experience I have had in Seattle all year, and the most satisfying to grace the Rep's main-stage since Carrie Fisher's pre-Broadway run in Wishful Drinking. Don't miss it, as it will cost more to see, and may be less ideally cast, when it takes Manhattan.

Equivocation runs Wednesdays-Sundays through December 13, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center; $12-$59. For further information call 206-443-2222 or online at

Photo: Jenny Graham

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.

- David Edward Hughes

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