Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Shakespeare in LoveAsolo Repertory Theatre
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Jordan Brown and Laura Rook
Photo by Cliff Rolles
Well, 2018 has arrived and Asolo Rep's repertory season begins with Shakespeare in Love, the play based on the Academy Award winning Best Film of 1998 and adapted for the stage by Lee Hall from the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard. It stands as one of the most lavish productions ever staged by Asolo Rep, with 26 listed actors including a dog, eye-popping costumes, and a multilevel set that resembles an Elizabethan era theater. But I am left with one question. Why?

The film is among my all time favorites. I love how Norman and Stoppard weaved clever sly references to Shakespeare's writings into the plot, and how they layered the fictional story with real life characters and situations. The acting goes from strength to strength, with Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow perfect as the lovers and Judi Dench lighting up a cameo role as Queen Elizabeth, and the visual beauty of it all is memorable. What was the need to put this story onto the stage? The adaptation changes very little, certainly not the focus in any meaningful way. The immediacy that comes with a live version is offset by several important scenes that were written for the film's strengths. I might be more in tune with the idea if someone were to make a musical of it, although I don't see the material as being ripe for that.

Asolo Rep fields a wonderful cast. Jordan Brown is properly dashing and brash as Will Shakespeare, Laura Rook winsome as Viola de Lesseps. She is also believable cross dressing, hoping to become an actor. Standouts among the large ensemble cast include Peggy Roeder as Queen Elizabeth, Matt Mueller as Kit Marlowe, David Lively as Fennyman (his delight in being given a small part in a play is palpable), Matthew McGee as Lambert/Wabash, Andrew Bosworth as Frees, David Breitbarth as Burbage (when isn't he a standout?), Catherine Smitko as Viola's Nurse, and Brandon Dahlquist as Wessex. Let me note that every member of this cast is a standout at one moment or another. It has been said that it is dangerous to work with children and dogs on stage, hence it should be no surprise that Addison Ruscoe as John Webster and Sting as Spot (a dog) threaten to steal the show from all the human/adult cast members.

Rachel Rockwell directs her second production of this mammoth piece and experience shows, as she keeps everything balanced and in focus. Scott Davis is responsible for the scenic design, Susan Mickey for costume design, and Robert Wierzel for lighting design. Sound design is by Ray Nardelli, and he has done an extraordinary job keeping the actors sounding natural, even though they are mic'd. The usual long list of Asolo Rep technical professionals is in place and the brilliance of the production bears witness to their importance, but I would be remiss in not calling out Patricia Delorey (voice and dialect coach) for the reasonably natural-sounding English accents and Michelle Hart for hair/wig and make up design. Ms. Rook's first appearance dressed as a man fooled several people around me, and they were taken aback when "he" turned out to be a woman.

Shakespeare in Love the play shows Asolo Rep at its most dazzling. For sheer entertainment value, it is a must see.

Asolo Repertory Theater presents Shakespeare in Love through March 28, 2018, at the Mertz Theater in the FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. For tickets and information, call the box office at 941-351-8000 or visit

Cast (in order of appearance):
Will Shakespeare: Jordan Brown*
Kit Marlow: Matt Mueller*^
Henslowe: Jack Wetherall*
Fennyman: David Lively*
Lambert/Wabash: Matthew McGee*
Frees/Ensemble: Andrew Bosworth**
Burbage: David Breitbarth*
Mistress Quickly/Ensemble: Colleen Lafeber
Tilney/Robert de Lesseps: Matt DeCaro*
Spot: Sting, the Dog
Queen Elizabeth: Peggy Roeder*
Valentine/Ensemble: Aleksandr Krapivkin
Viola de Lesseps: Laura Rook*
Nurse: Catherine Smitko*
Musician: Rex Willis
Ralph/Ensemble: Anthony J. Hamilton^^
Nol/Ensemble: Nolan Fitzgerald Hennelly
Robin/Ensemble: Dustin Babin
Adam/Ensemble: Wes Tolman
John Webster: Addison Ruscoe
Wessex: Brandon Dahlquist*
Ned Alleyn: Nate Burger*
Sam/Ensemble: Christopher Carlson
Molly/Ensemble: Kedren Spencer^^
Kate/Ensemble: Mary Ellen Everett
Ensemble: Amy Helms
Ensemble: Amber Lageman
*=Member of Actors' Equity Association
**=Dance Captain
^+Fight Captain
^^=Appears Courtesy of Actors' Equity Association