Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Shakespeare in Love
Insight Theatre Company
Review by Richard T. Green

Aaron Dodd, Gwendolyn Wotawa,
and Michelle Hand

Photo by John Lamb
Two or three times at the Grandel Theatre this weekend I totally forgot that I was watching a lot of excellent actors on stage, simply doing a live re-enactment of a well-known movie. Which is highly problematic, because Shakespeare in Love is a two and a half hour play, with very few lively moments. It's getting its local premiere at the Insight Theatre Company with a long wait between sparkling moments of spontaneity.

The other notable thing is that a very fine director, Suki Peters, is running the show: notable because it doesn't quite work, and up to now everything I've seen her direct has been exemplary. As Shakespeare in Love's theater manager Hensley says, in another context, over and over, "no one understands it, it's a mystery."

I've only seen the 1998 movie once, in its original release twenty-one years ago. Yet, somehow, it seems a well-trodden path: a stage-struck young woman gets sucked into a sort of Elizabethan-era version of 42nd Street. (Okay, it's actually the premiere of Romeo and Juliet and it's illegal for women to be on stage in Shakespeare's time, which should create tension, but somehow does not in this case.) Back in '98, with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman, the movie came off magically. The live-on-stage version is minimally re-written by Lee Hall: a forbidden, back-stage romance, originally made for film, finally adapted for the stage.

The good news is that the actors actually do get paid in this day and age, as opposed to Shakespeare's time. In (more or less) descending order, here's who ought to get the most from the gate this time out. Whit Reichert, who is 100% in tune with the needs of the property and treats it just as lightly as it deserves. As theater owner Henslowe, Reichert brings with him his own internal locus of tension, which is frequently missing from the rest of the production. Next in terms of finding a successful tone is Wendy Renee Greenwood as Queen Elizabeth, whose gimlet eye proves to be the perfect lens to watch it all unfolding. And Ted Drury is the nobleman who brusquely forces that stage-struck young woman into marriage. Paradoxically, Spencer Sickmann as Christopher Marlowe is also on this "best of" list—paradoxically, because he's the only one in this rank whose character is actually having a good time of it.

The cast is full of splendid performers, but the tension of the original film has mostly vanished. Gwendolyn Wotawa as Viola and Aaron Dodd as Shakespeare are dragged down very quickly by a severe case of "premature heartbreak syndrome," inexplicably foreshadowing the play's doomed romance early on and the whole way through. It's not that Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes were all that great in the movie, but somehow, something—chemistry, or a gleeful jungle fever between the two leads?—has been lost in translation. The "emotional high points" between the lovers on stage at the Grandel should be significantly higher, and more frequent. As it stands now, the two approach each other as warily as volunteer patients at the local school of dentistry.

The rest of the cast is blithely funny and delightfully glowering, including the dean of local actors, Joneal Joplin. These supporting players, at least, all seems to know it's only midsummer madness (here on the cusp of autumn).

Insight Theatre Company's Shakespeare in Love, through September 15, 2019, at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square (between the Fabulous Fox Theatre and Powell Symphony Hall), St. Louis MO. For more information visit

Tilney: Robert Ashton
Will Shakespeare: Aaron Dodd
Ralph: Chuck Brinkley
Kate: Rachel Bailey
Viola de Lesseps: Gwendolyn Wotawa*
Queen Elizabeth: Wendy Renee Greenwood
Henslowe: Whit Reichert*
Robin/Frees: Anthony Wininger
Molly: Mara Bollini
Burbage: Carl Overly, Jr.
Sir Robert de Lesseps: Kurt Knoedelseder
Lady de Lesseps: Tommy Nolan
Sam: Ryan Lawson-Maeske
Nurse: Michelle Hand
Peter/Barman: Joseph Garner
Mistress Quickley: Ruth Ezell
Marlowe: Spencer Sickmann
Wabash: John Foughty
Adam/Lambert: Tyler Woods
Wessex: Ted Drury
Ned Alleyn: Shane Signorino
Fennyman: Joneal Joplin*
Webster: Riley James
Nol/Lead Soloist: Abraham Shaw

Rachel Bailey, Mara Bollini, Chuck Brinkley, Ruth Ezell, Cara Langhauser, Catherine Edwards Kopff, and Abraham Shaw

Artistic Staff:
Director: Suki Peters
Stage Manager: Richard Agnew*
Costume Designer: Julian King
Set Designer: Chuck Winning
Choreographer: Maria Straub-David
Fight Director: Eric Kuhn
Production Manager: James E. Slover
Lighting Designer: Jaime Zayas
Sound Designer: Robin Weatherall
Sound Engineer: James Blanton
House Manager: Natalie Clark
Wardrobe Mistress: Emma Hersom
Assistant Stage Managers: Maggy Bort, Cara Langhauser, Maria Straub-David
Props Mistress: Katie Orr

* Denotes Member, Actors Equity Association