Torture, questioning the effectiveness of torture, secret renditions, religious factions, assassinations, government falsehoods for the greater good, heavy loss of civilian lives for the greater good… Sound familiar in the beginning of this century? This is not just the Middle East and North Africa, but also our own country.
“Equivocation,” the title of the current offering at B Street Theatre’s B3 stage, has several definitions. All are about some form of evasion of the truth. In this case, it is about a lie not being a mortal sin if the lie results in a greater good.
“Equivocation” is not set in the beginning of the 21st century, but in the London of 1606. James I is now King of England. He has recently survived a plot to blow up Parliament that would have killed him, his whole family and much of the ruling class. The plot is the result of the religous strife started by Henry VIII’s creation of the Church of England over a half century earlier. The failure of this plot is still an annual celebration in England known as Guy Fawkes Day, named after the first conspirator that was caught.
In “Equivocation,” King James’s minister Sir Robert Cecil informs the hot playwright of the day, William Shagspeare (a variation on Shakespeare), that he is going to write a play about the “Powder plot,” as it has come to be known. The play is to be based on a text written by James. This sets up the situation that Shag – as he is known – must write a play that he knows is a lie or die for treason.
There are several characters in the play including the actors in the Globe Theatre, the conspirators, jailers/torturers, the king and his minister, Shakespeare and his daughter. Four actors play multiple roles, sometimes changing rapidly from one role to another.
Remi Sandri is an experienced regional actor, including six seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival where “Equivocation” was first produced. He is very good as Shag, who appears in nearly every scene.
The very talented and popular local actor, Matt K. Miller, plays Richard, the manager of the Globe, and the Jesuit priest, Henry Garnet, who is blamed for enticing the plot. Miller is especially good as Garnet.
Los Angeles based stage, screen and television actor James Leo Ryan plays Globe company member Sharpe, and Thomas Winter, a conspirator. He is very good at both roles, but it is his performance as James I that is quite a hoot.
Kurt Johnson has been with the B Street Theatre since interning in 1993 and 1994. Currently a member of the B Street Theater Acting Company, he both directs and acts. Johnson appeared in “Northport Cottage” and in multiple roles in “The 39 Steps” this season. He is good in the role of Nate, another Globe actor. He is really great as the physically and morally deformed Sir Robert Cecil.
John Lamb is another longtime B Street Theatre Company member. He has appeared in many School Tours and Family Series productions. He has also directed several Mainstage productions. Lamb plays Globe actor and keeper of the scripts, Armin, and a great turn as Coke, the prosecutor in the trial of Henry Garnet.
The one female character in the play is Judith, Shagspeare’s daughter and the twin of his dead son. Judith is played by B Street 2009-10 acting intern Brittni Barger. She was the fabulous Junie B. in “Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!” Judith must overcome Shag’s feelings about the death of her twin while also being the conscience of the Globe Company. Her performance easily equals that of her much more experienced peers.
Playwright Bill Cain has won many awards writing for stage, film and television, including a Peabody Award. He has a strong background in the plays of William Shakespeare including founding the Boston Shakespeare Company, where he was the Artistic Director for seven years.
Cain has created a complicated, intense play. The action jumps from within the Globe Theatre to scenes involving the conspirators to those involving the King and Cecil, yet it is very funny much of the time. The audience laughed a lot. It is best to not keep trying to figure out what is going on and just enjoy the great language and action. This is definitely a play that invites multiple viewing.
Directing Intern Laura Baker keeps all the scene changes working smoothly while bringing out numerous great acting performances. Baker worked as an assistant director for “Northport Cottage” and “The 29 Steps” this season.
Catherine Frye’s multilevel set combined with Ron Modonia’s lighting successfully creates the multiple environments needed for the play. Add Paulette Sand-Gilbert’s period costumes, and you have the feeling of 1606 London.
Bill Cain’s “Equivocation” has so much to offer. There is a lot of action, combined with a lot to think about. It is very serious, even horrific, while being seriously funny. There are several characters which are beautifully realized by the cast of this excellent B Street Theatre production. Go, and just sit back and enjoy the production. You may get it all in one viewing. You may just want to come back and see it again.