Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Shakespeare in Love
Also see Gil's recent review of Anything Goes
The play centers on the young and struggling William Shakespeare who is suffering from writer's block. His search for inspiration arrives in the form of the passionate theatre enthusiast Viola De Lesseps who becomes the source of Shakespeare's creative reawakening. The two fall deeply in love, but their forbidden romance is complicated by Viola's engagement to Lord Wessex. The fast-moving plot is rich with twists and turns, which makes it an engaging romantic comedy.
While the plot of the play follows the 1998 film screenplay quite closely, Hall has eliminated some of the film's unnecessary minor characters and their plot twists while also leaning into the theatricality of the play within a play concept, which adds a fun theatrical flair to the comedy. As you'd expect from a play that centers on Shakespeare, Hall's dialogue is poetic and, like the screenplay, is an homage to the playwright, with elements from his other plays woven into the dialogue.
Richard Powers Hardt does a wonderful job with the direction. His large cast embody their characters with passion, humor, and authenticity and his staging makes great use of Fountain Hill's intimate main stage venue and Peter J. Hill's simple but effective set design to ensure the many locations in the plot are clear and distinct. Hill's lighting works very well to depict the evening scenes, with cool blue touches and bright and warm colors for the moments that take place during the day. Mickey Courtney's costumes are gorgeous, with rich period touches, and the sound design by Powers Hardt and Ross Collins provides an ever-changing selection of contemporary pop tunes with Elizabethan arrangements that tie in nicely to the humorous nature of the play.
With a lovely balance between wit and vulnerability, Spenser Borschel shines as William Shakespeare. His portrayal perfectly captures the struggling artist grappling with his own limitations who is dumbstruck with love, as well as rediscovering his ability to write, once he meets Viola. Shelby Daeffler is superb as Viola. Her passionate performance radiates charm while also embodying the spirit of a young woman who defies societal norms in pursuit of her dreams. Borschel and Daeffler are a couple in real life and their on-stage chemistry is electric and palpable.
Projecting a heavy dose of pompous flair, River Holmes does a great job as the haughty, entitled aristocrat Lord Wessex, Viola's wealthy fiancé. Andrew O'Neil infuses a sense of playfulness in his portrayal of Marlowe, Shakespeare's foil and friend, and Bob Feugate is wonderful as the eccentric yet lovable theater owner Philip Henslowe. Lauren Miller is excellent, with a commanding stage presence, as the witty and direct Queen Elizabeth I who has a keen interest in the theatre.
In supporting roles, Adam Gobeski is fun as Ned Alleyn, a popular stage actor with a flamboyant personality, Stephani James is great as Viola's nurse, and Al Benneian, Jeff Davey, Peter Hill, and Richard Wells create vivid portrayals of a wide range of comical characters. Also, Elias Matthews shines as Sam, the theatre troupe's young member who plays Juliet in Shakespeare's latest play. The rest of the ensemble infuse energy, warmth, and comedy into the various roles they play. However, the accents aren't always consistent, or present, from some of the supporting members of the cast, which slightly detracts from the joy of the production.
Shakespeare in Love weaves together romance, artistic inspiration, and the transformative nature of art into a touching tale that is a love letter to both William Shakespeare and the joy of live theatre. Fountain Hills Theater's production has an excellent cast, crisp direction, and rich creative elements that capture the beauty of Shakespeare's prose and the magic of theatre.
Shakespeare in Love runs through November 19, 2023, at Fountain Hills Theater, 11445 N. Saguaro Boulevard, Fountain Hills AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.fhtaz.org or call 480-837-9661.
Director: Richard Powers Hardt