By Bill Cainvictory gardens theater

Directed by Sean Graney

At Victory Gardens Theater, Chicago

Innovative, intelligent, and humorous new work about Shakespeare’s life unfolds as a theatrical triumph

Equivocation: “telling the truth in difficult times.” – Henry Garnet from the play Equivocation

“Truth defies dramatic formula.” – Shagspeare from Equivocation

Playwright Bill Cain, himself a director and interpreter of Shakespeare’s cannon,  has written a glimpse into what Shakespeare’s (here know as “Shagspeare) personal life could have been like in his ambitious Equivocation, now in its Midwest Premiere. It’s 1605 and Shags is now a down-and-out playwright who receives a royal commission to write a play promoting the government’s version of Guy Fawkes’ treasonous Gunpowder Plot.

sean graney

Shags (expert performance by Marc Grapey) argues with the King’s adviser, Sir Robert Cecil (terrific work by Mark Montgomery) about the point of view of the play. Cecil wants it to be favorable to King James I but Shags wants to know more details so he can be truthful since he resists writing current history. The early scenes are filled with witty banter as to the nature of life in a theatre company run by the actors in a “cooperative venture.” The work is filled with inside Bard jokes and references that  makes The Bard’s fans rejoice and laugh. We meet Shags’ players: Richard (the commanding Bruce A. Young) whose is loyal to Shags but he resents the young talented Sharpe (Arturo Soria), Armin (Matt Kahler) and Nate (Mark L. Montgomery) are loyal actors just wanting to perform.  The scenes that find these players doing scene work from Shags” plays was a hoot. We also learn that Shags is somewhat estranged for his daughter Judith (Minita Gandhi),the twin to Shags’ dead son.

victory gardnes theater

The play is filled with themes, incidents, and epigrams that include political gamesmanship with loads of explosive humor. This is an innovative comedy of ideas as well as a political thriller. As Shags gets to know about the particulars of the Gunpowder Plot, he get to meet Father Garnet (powerful work by Bruce A. Young) who sharply teaches Shags the meaning of “equivocation” – as the “craft of learning how to speak the truth in difficult times.”

Equivocation is a dense, wordy work containing material about the complex relationship between art and politics; between the truth and lies. Are Shags (and us) ready to pay the price for telling the truth? The plot twists, the zinging lines and retort, and, especially the re-enacting  of scenes from Macbeth (and other works) highlight the humor of this most engaging and provocative work.  Some will find it too confusing especially with the insider Shakespeare reference but I found it funny, witty, and chuck full of ideas and themes worth exploring. It is fast-paced with amazingly effective performances. Marc Grapey leads the way with Mark Montgomery and Bruce A. Young doing powerful work. Arturo Soria as Sharpe and King  James I demonstrated his acting skills as he moves from serious actor to swishy king. The is indicative  of the committed work by the ambitious cast. Director Sean Graney captures the humor, the wit, and the intriguing of Bill Cain’s comedy of ideas.

sean graney

The acting and the production values of Equivocation are first-class. William Boles’ stunning set design  with Janice Pytel’s period-perfect costumes evoking 17th fashions and heather Gilbert’s lighting design each contributed to setting the right look and atmosphere. Equivocation is the finest work yet mounted under artistic director Chay Yew’s tenure. It is a major theatrical triumph deserving a large audience

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: September 24, 2012

Jeff Recommended

At Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N.Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL,  call 773-871-3000,, tickets $20 – $50, Tuesdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Saturday matinees at 4pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through October 14, 2012

One thought on “Equivocation

  • I used to read you blog frequently, I can’t believe I ever stopped! Now I remember what got me enamored hooked overall.

Leave a Reply