MUST SEEREVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

Shakespeare In Love

Based on the screenplay by Marc Norman & Tom Stoppard.

Adapted for the stage by Lee Hall.

Directed by Rachel Rockwell,

At Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Romantic comedy deftly adapted from the 1998 Oscar-winning film is enchantingly funny.

To better appreciate the enchantingly funny and heartfelt stage adaption directed by  Rachel Rockwell and played by a terrific cast, I advise seeing the 1998 film, Shakespeare In Love (watch here for free: ). Once you become reacquainted with the charm of the film, you’ll enjoy the vibrancy and cuteness of Rockwell’s stage production even more. Rarely does a stage adaptation of a famous film deliver the charm, wit, humor and romance of the film, But this production, now running at Chicago Shakespeare, absolutely delivers

This fictional play (which follows the film closely) combines how The Bard may have found his muse to write Romeo & Juliet with the peculiarities of Elizabethan Era theater.

Synopsis: (from the press notes: “Young playwright Will Shakespeare  (Nick Rehberger) is stuck. He is overdue in finishing his latest play—a half-baked mess of a comedy called Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter. He finds his muse in Viola de Lesseps (Kate McGonigle), who is driven to do anything—even disguise herself as a man—to fulfill her dream of performing onstage, where no women are permitted. Surrounded by familiar players, including Queen Elizabeth herself (Linda Reiter), backstage antics collide with onstage dramas. Will and Viola’s passionate, forbidden love affair goes on to inspire Shakespeare’s masterpiece—the most romantic tragedy ever written.”

The above summary is only the basic story. We see Will as he scrambles to make a living writing despite his ‘writer’s block.’ He is pressured by Henslowe (LarryYando), the debt-ridden owner of the Rose Theater who hopes Shakespeare can write a new hit show. There is the distinguished actor Burbage who is often at odds with Will and Marlowe (Michael Perez). We see the dynamics of mounting a new play in the 1590’s London. These scenes are funny and telling Larry Yando’s Henslowe acts as a sort of narrator here.

The dynamic of Will casting his Romeo by Thomas Kent (Kate McGonigle disguised as a man) and eventually falling for Kent once hs discovers that Kent is really Viola de Lesseps, a star-struck want-to-be actor. Problem: Will is married and Viola is committed to marry the irrepressible Lord Wessex (Dennis  Grimes). This doomed romance fuels the play with clever plot twists that are hilarious. We also hear some famous lines and scenes for Romeo & Juliet including sword fighting scenes and the famous dying scenes.

The sparks between Rehberger’s Will and McGonigle’s Viola are real. The friendship between Will and Marlowe together with the theatre owners and the actors makes for funny relationships that vividly and comically depict the dedication to their craft by the London players and creatives. This work is enchanting, funny, action-packed utilizing a revolving wooden set, (designed by Scott Davis) plus nice use of period folk music and songs. Without me giving away the resolution, let me state that this is a plausible fictional work that could have happened. Nick Rehberger, Kate McGonigle, and Larry Yando anchor this wonderful cast with Linda Eeiter as a hoot playing Queen Elizabeth I. Dennis Grimes was effective as Lord Wessex while Michael Perez was charming as the playwright Marlowe.

Shakespeare In Love is one of the finest plays seen on a Chicago stage this year! It demonstrates why I believe the Chicago Shakespeare Theater is Chicago’s finest theater troupe. See Shakespeare In Love and you’ll understand why.

Highly Recommended.

Tom Williams.

Jeff Recommended.

At Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier, Chicago, IL, call 312-595-5600,, tickets $58 – $88, Tuesdays  7:30 p.m., Wednesdays  1 and 7:30 p.m., Thursdays  7:30 p.m, Fridays  7:30 p.m., Saturdays  3 and 8 p.m., Sundays  2 p.m., running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission.