CRT’s ‘Shakespeare in Love’ is a rousing tale of romance and the magic of theatre

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Jack Dillon (Will) and the company of SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE onstage at Connecticut Repertory Theatre Thursday, Nov. 21 through December 8. Photos courtesy of Connecticut Repertory Theatre.

The legacy of the 1998 film “Shakespeare in Love” is as interesting as the film itself, known in equal parts for its own quality as a piece of cinema as it is for winning Best Picture at the 71st Academy Awards, an award many believe should have rightfully gone to Steven Spielberg’s classic “Saving Private Ryan.” 

This type of notoriety works in favor of Connecticut Repertory Theater’s new production, as many people are familiar with the title, but the number of people who have actually seen the film and are aware of its plot is probably far smaller. 

The show’s strength lies in its performances, headlined by Jack Dillon and Erin Cessna. In the role of Shakespeare, Dillon brings an infectious charm and humor, mixing strong line delivery with entertaining physical comedy. His erratic behavior is far removed from the unapproachable quality so many associate with Shakespeare’s works, giving us a relatable, lovable protagonist.  

In truth, Cessna’s character, Viola, is probably the most interesting character in the story, providing an interesting layer on the classic doomed love plotline. In being both Shakespeare’s lover and star performer, Viola’s arc carries the most narrative force, caught in a constant battle between oppressive societal forces and her own need for self-actualization. Thankfully, Cessna fully delivers in her performance, loading each line with poignant emotion 

Some of the show’s best moments are between Shakespeare and fellow playwright Christopher Marlowe, played expertly by Mauricio Miranda. The chemistry between Miranda and Dillon is electric, and any scene with the two of them is guaranteed to be full of energy and wit. Marlowe’s role has been substantially beefed up from being almost a cameo in the film. Whereas the Marlowe of the film offers only minor inspiration to Shakespeare, here the two are close friends who collaborate at great length throughout. While this may be seen as detracting from Shakespeare’s own brilliance, these scenes highlight another of the era’s greatest literary minds and give respect to a legacy that remains unknown by most. 

The rest of the cast does an excellent job as well, with standouts from Scottish actor Anthony Cochrane as theatre manager Henslowe, Matthew Antoci as loan shark turned theatre producer Fennyman, Adrianna Simmons as Nurse and Leone Rodriguez as Webster, an aspiring actor with a concerning affinity for gore. 

While most of the film’s plot has been deftly adapted to the stage, there remain certain elements that were handled better in the film. The arrivals of Edmund Tilney and Lord Wessex at the playhouse during the play’s climax are now much earlier, yet this alteration hardly serves to better the plot as the two of them are awkwardly shoved down a trap door until the time of their entrance in the film, leaving me to wonder why this was changed at all.  

The costumes by Brittny Mahan are one of the most surprising elements of the show, mixing traditional Elizabethan dress with modern attire. While this was a choice I was unsure of at first, I soon got used to it and found it to flow very naturally with the rest of the show. With the attempts of the play, as well as the film it is based on, to present a Shakespeare for modern audiences to enjoy, dressing the characters in more modern clothing fits well with the updated dialogue and characterizations.  

The music attempts to use the same trick, incorporating modern electric guitar into some scenes. I found this less successful, usually feeling a bit forced in and jarring. Otherwise, the score was well orchestrated, especially in its usage of vocals. While not a musical by any means, background singing is often used to enhance the mood of a scene, be it dramatic or comedic (as in the case of Bryan Mittelstadt’s hilarious role as the boatman).  

At the end of the day, the story of “Shakespeare in Love” may not be as epic or monumental as the works of Shakespeare himself, but it is at least a charming story. There is humor in it and some fascinating tidbits of information on influential historical figures. The language is more accessible than real Shakespearean dialogue and the story is more a historical fiction than a dry biography. That is what gives the story such broad appeal and makes it an apt choice for CRT to end its season on. 

CRT does a laudable job taking this story and filling it with excitement and fun that all audiences can enjoy. The acting is top notch all around and the staging is truly impressive. Regardless of personal tastes, there will be something in this play for you. I happily give “Shakespeare in Love” my recommendation and encourage you all to go see it, if at least to get a last bit of fun before finals week hits. 

“Shakespeare in Love” will be playing at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre from Dec. 4 to Dec. 8. You can pick up tickets on CRT’s website or at the box office before each show. 


Evan Burns is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at evan.burns@uconn.edu.

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