A few years have passed since the death of William Shakespeare, and we find ourselves in a tavern with three of the King’s Men, the official theatre company under the patronage of the King. Actors Henry Condell, John Heminges, and Richard Burbage – all dear friends of Shakespeare are drinking and lamenting the loss of their friend as well as the loss of his plays written in their true form. Apparently Shakespeare never wrote his plays out in their entirety for fear of competitors stealing them. What remained after his death were bits and pieces, actor’s individual “sides”, scattered scripts, but no definitive published volumes of the full pieces. Burbage actually remembers, impressively, most of the plays verbatim and proceeds to regale the patrons with a mash-up soliloquy of several of them. But when Burbage dies unexpectedly that evening, the surviving men hatch a plan to publish a definitive book of the plays. Others have already begun performing unauthorized and decidedly incorrect, so called Shakespeare plays so time is of the essence and we are off to the races.
And so begins Lauren Gunderson’s imagining of the tumultuous and arduous journey to publish the First Folio, which secured the Bard’s body of work for generations to come. A Noise Within brings us a delightful production directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott with a shimmering, candle-lit set by Frederica Nascimento and sumptuous costumes by Angela Balogh Calin. As always with ANW shows, the production values are top notch along with the acting and directing. It’s a fascinating look into Shakespeare’s time and what it may have been like in those early years after his death – for his friends and the community. The cast does a marvelous job of bringing us into their world beginning with that exhilarating mash-up monologue in the first act delivered with exuberance by the always delightful Frederick Stuart as Burbage. Leading the charge among these loyal friends is a stalwart Condell played by a passionate Jeremy Rabb along with the more hesitant but deeply loyal Heminges, played with steadiness by the always dynamic Geoff Elliott. The two men walk this journey of friendship’s responsibilities, joys and sorrows with grace and dignity as they strive to preserve their departed friend’s legacy. The urgency of their endeavor is expressed best by Heminges when he says “publish or vanish.”
ANW audience favorite, Kasey Mahaffy, has a great time with the role of Ralph Crane, the scribe who was so earnest in writing down all of his favorite plays, he becomes a key player in reconstructing them and becomes their editor. Mahaffy finds the comedy throughout while allowing for the depth of the moment. Trisha Miller is salty and sultry as Condell’s wife, Elizabeth while Nicole Javier brings a sharp-tongued shrewdness to Hemminge’s daughter and collaborator, Alice. The incomparable Deborah Strang gives a poignant performance as Hemminge’s wife, Rebecca, and brings an easy chemistry with Elliott. Stanley Andrew Jackson is charming as Isaac Jaggard and Alex Morris blusters powerfully as Shakespeare’s fellow writer, Ben Jonson. Kelvin Morales does a bang up job as several smaller characters and as in Shakespeare’s time, several actors play a couple of different roles which they all pull off with aplomb especially Stuart, almost unrecognizeable as the blind, cantankerous and unethical publisher William Jaggard.
The show is really a love letter to theatre itself and an homage to not only Shakespeare and the genius of his writing, but to those who struggled to preserve those precious words for all the world to hear.
Performances of The Book of Will continue through June 4 on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets start at $25. Student tickets start at $18.
A Noise Within is located at 3352 E Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91107. For more information and to purchase tickets, call (626) 356-3100 or go to www.anoisewithin.org