Tuesday, August 25, 2009


The other day I tried to explain to someone how much I loved this show and realized that I was totally ill-equipped to do so. Author Bill Cain has woven so much history, Shakespeare, and edge-of-your seat tension into Equivocation that words completely failed me in any attempt to do it justice.

Director Bill Rauch's world premier of this text could not have been more impeccably cast. The story takes place in London, 1605, and Prime Minister Robert Cecil is commissioning William Shagspeare (Cain's preferred spelling of "Shakespeare") to write a history play out of a current event: The Powder Plot, in which Catholic rebels supposedly tug a tunnel under the Parliament building in an attempt to blow up the King and his family for outlawing their religion. Shag and his men must decide how to discover and tell the truth of the story without being hanged by the powerfully evil and manipulative Cecil. In a world where the torture taking place in the Tower of London is a very real threat, the fear and tension is thick.

A cast of five men (and one woman, playing Shag's intriguing surviving twin daughter) play countless roles, spinning between members of the acting company, then the actors playing other characters, and the historical figures themselves. Anthony Heald plays a passionate Shag, and Richard Elmore plays the father figure of the acting troupe as well as the Catholic priest on trial for the Powder Plot. John Tufts plays the hotheaded young actor in the Globe and Scottish King James seemingly without taking a breath in between.

The title of the play comes from Father Henry Garnet (Elmore) and his need to equivocate: To tell one truth in order to reveal another. Shag and his men must write Cecil's play or die a torturous death for it, but also cannot lie to their audiences and to history. Their challenge is, as in all theater, to tell one story to reveal a greater truth.

Having just come from London and my history-nerd-near-heart-attack from being in the Tower of London and the Globe itself, and being somewhat well-versed in Shakespeare, I felt like I surely got most of the references and details. But the more I think back on this amazing text and performance, I am quite sure that my understanding of Bill Cain's incredible words and research only scratched the surface.

(P.S. The Geffen in Los Angeles is going to be doing this text this season... Look out for it!)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Paradise Lost

Clifford Odets, commonly thought of as the American Chekhov, wrote Paradise Lost in 1935, and it was first produced by the Group Theatre in New York City later that year. Odets transformed the tumultuous economic upheaval of the Great Depression into a story of a family coping with the loss of dreams and of their familiar way of life in the face of a harsher reality. With so many jobs being lost today, the story could not be more timely.

The production in the Angus Bowmer Theatre directed by Libby Appel reflected the ensemble-focused traditions of the Group Theatre: No star-stolen moments, but a solid unit of a Jewish family, the Gordons, and their world with the characters that inhabit it. Despite great talent and promise, the adult children are unable to find work, and the parents have mortgaged the family home in order to keep the handbag business that stands between them and poverty. The wife, Clara, wonderfully played by Linda Alper, is trying to forestall the imminent ruin of her family, constantly attempting to ease their concerns with offers of fruit. The husband Leo is sure that despite the hard times, they will succeed by doing the right thing: When he learns from the labor union the condition in which his employees toil, he wants to help them. When a stranger offers to burn down the handbag factory to receive the insurance money, Leo throws him out of his house.

But the attempts to do right are not met with reward. Their oldest son is killed by police fire in a botched job attempt for a mobster friend. The daughter, although a talented pianist, cannot find employment and since her fiance cannot either, he leaves town, leaving her behind to grieve. The youngest son is dying from a long, drawn-out disease. Eventually, they lose the house.

And here's the kicker: This is a play of hope. The characters may be ultimately unsuccessful in their endeavors, but their lives hold significance. Their piece of the American Dream has been utterly destroyed by the Great Depression and yet they still strive to do right and they never, ever give up hope in the future. Odets' words are incredibly reassuring in our own financial and political climate, when, tragically, bad things happen to good people every day. And yet, like the Gordon family, when bad things happen, we still must cling to hope.