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Theater Review: “Equivocation”

This San Diego premiere plays through Nov. 20 at Lamb’s Players Theatre.
Photo credit:
© 2016 Lamb's Players Theatre

Diana Elledge’s lovely onstage cello playing lends atmosphere to “Equivocation,” Bill Cain’s rollicking, sprawling comedy on the nature of truth, theater and politics.

This San Diego premiere plays through Nov. 20 at Lamb’s Players Theatre.

The time is 1605; Scottish King James I has recently succeeded Elizabeth I on the English throne, fomenting more religious strife between Catholics and Protestants, and Shag (aka William Shakespeare) and his troupe are casting about for a play to produce.

The four members of Shag’s troupe all play multiple characters.

A fifth character wanders in and out, offering wondrously trenchant comments about theater (she hates plays) and truth (“How could there be anything true about a play?” she asks. “Plays have beginnings and endings. That’s two lies right there.”)

This is Shag’s daughter Judith (played brilliantly by Caitie Grady), the twin of the son who died at a young age of the plague. 

And don’t get her started on soliloquies. “I don’t like soliloquies ... People you’ve never met telling you things you’d rather not know.”

England’s crippled prime minister Robert Cecil (Francis Gercke) comes to Shag (Robert Smyth), wanting him to write a propaganda piece about the failed Gunpowder Plot.

With witches (he likes witches). Shag tells him his troupe is a cooperative venture (and he doesn’t do current events), but Cecil slaps the money on the table and gives Shag two weeks. 

Shag attempts the assignment, even visiting Tom Wintour (Ross Hellwig), one of the plotters imprisoned in the Tower awaiting a gruesome execution.

At least Shag could get some of the facts straight. But that doesn’t work, because there’s no drama in the story. As Shag puts it, “it’s a four-act buildup to an explosion that never happens.” 

Should they change history and blow up Parliament onstage? Not unless they want to end up in the Tower with Tom.

Along the way, there are sparkling discussions about theater and truth (or theater vs. truth, depending on how you look at it), even about truth itself.

This is where the title comes in: Shag talks to a priest named Garnet (Paul Eggington) – on trial for conspiracy in the plot – for his take on equivocation, illustrated in the following story: Suppose a man comes to your door and asks if the King is inside.

According to Garnet, he’s really asking, “May I kill your guest?” or “Will you open the door for me to kill him?”

The correct answer to that is “No.” You must, says Garnet, answer the question that’s really being asked.

Well, that’s all fascinating, but what play will Shag offer the king? You’ll have to go see “Equivocation” to find out.

Trust me. You want to see this play. Smyth, Grady and the quartet of shape-shifting actors slide in and out of characters as quickly as donning a jacket or assuming a limp. It’s a hoot, all the way around.

The details

“Equivocation” plays through November 20, 2016 at Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Avenue, Coronado.

Tuesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 4 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (619) 437-6000 or lambsplayers.org