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!)

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