In his notes for Shakespeare in Love, now onstage at People’s Light, director Matt Pfeiffer notes that no matter whether you love or hate Shakespeare, “his influence is an essential part of our understanding of stories and storytelling.”
There is little known about Shakespeare’s life, and production dramaturg Alix Rosenfeld points out that this has spawned a lot of fan fiction—like this stage adaptation of the 1998 Academy Award-winning film. Fans of Shakespeare will delight in a fantasy storyline imagining the inspiration of one of our most iconic love stories.
Screen to stage
Based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard and adapted for the stage by Lee Hall, the story takes place in 1593 London. The young playwright Will Shakespeare is battling writer’s block until he discovers his muse in Viola de Lesseps, a wealthy merchant’s daughter fascinated with the stage. Taking a stand against England’s prohibition on female performers, the rebellious Viola disguises herself as a man and wins the role of Romeo in Shakespeare’s upcoming comedy. As Will discovers Viola’s true identity, the two begin a passionate affair that inspires a revision of his newest play Romeo and Juliet.
Pfeiffer directs in his People’s Light debut, attempting to control the chaos of the continually revelatory plot. Some scenes are too busy, trying to cram in too many pictures demanding your focus. But humor is placed perfectly in each scene, with the actors sitting in the comedic moments, allowing the audience to catch the wit found in each line.
Jaime Maseda as William Shakespeare and Taysha Canales as Viola provide great chemistry, both romantically and comedically. Their love story is entertaining to watch as it unfolds layers of identity, social class, and spontaneity. The production includes a refreshingly diverse cast, including a puppy. But while the supporting cast has moments that shine, many actors lack dynamic, fully embodied performances.
Alex Bechtel composes new songs and an original score exclusive to the People’s Light production of Shakespeare in Love. The live band accompaniment is simple yet grand, providing a magical backdrop to Shakespeare’s love story.
A good Bard balance
Paige Hathaway (sets) and Olivera Gajic (costumes) also make their People’s Light debuts. Hathaway’s set has a modern, IKEA-style look, complete with unfinished wood and string lights. Gajic’s costume design is a mix of contemporary and Elizabethan-era clothing, ranging from beanies and sunglasses to stunning gowns.
People’s Light producing director Zak Berkman says Shakespeare in Love is a “love letter to romantic love, to the theatre, and to the rebellious, transgressive, mysterious, and glorious madness of both.” Covering themes of deception, desire, and desperation, this production is packed with sword fights, passionate love affairs, and an adorable dog. With sonnets of Shakespeare sprinkled throughout the production, the show provides a good balance of classic Bard and modern text: it’s nostalgic without making me doze off in my seat.
Editor’s note: this review has been updated to fully reflect proper attributions to the People’s Light production team.
What, When, Where
Shakespeare in Love. Adapted for the stage by Lee Hall, directed by Matt Pfeiffer. Through March 29, 2020, at People’s Light, 39 Conestoga Rd., Malvern. (610) 644-3500 or peopleslight.org.
People’s Light is wheelchair-accessible and offers a range of devices and support freely available for the use of their patrons, including Audio Devices & T-Coil Loops, Fidgets and noise-canceling headphones, ASL interpreters at select performances, and audio descriptions.
There will be open-caption performances of Shakespeare in Love March 24 through 29.