It’s a love letter to theater itself.
It’s difficult (if delightful) to picture the Bard of Avon slaving over a line, which is why watching him trying to write “Shall I compare thee to a ...... (fill in the blank) is a great and amusing way to start Lee Hall’s adaptation of the 1998 film “Shakespeare in Love.”
South Coast Repertory is host to this charming if a bit frantic stage version through Feb. 10, under the direction of Marc Masterson.
Will (Paul David Story) is working on a comedy to be called “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter,” but inspiration has deserted him and he’s in a funk until Viola De Lesseps (Carmela Corbett), daughter of money who longs to be onstage, calls herself Thomas Kent and comes en homme to audition for Romeo (since theater is a boys-only enterprise).
S/he gets the part – and Will’s heart – though both know it’s a match that cannot be (because she is engaged – against her will – to Lord Wessex). And that’s essentially the plot.
But “Shakespeare in Love” isn’t really about plot; it’s a love letter to theater itself, where directors must deal with too little rehearsal time and money, oversized egos, and backers who want changes in the script. And it’s stuffed with jokes and parodies of Shakespeare’s lines and plots, though you’ll have to listen carefully to pick them up.
So we have Will, an up-and-coming playwright whose work is sought by competing theater directors Henslowe (Bo Foxworth) and Burbage (Louis Lotorto). And there’s established playwright Christopher (Kit) Marlowe (Corey Brill), who turns out to be rather a muse for Will, helping him overcome his writer’s block and offering plot ideas.
We have an assortment of actors and wannabe actors, a few tavern whores, even (wardrobe) Mistress Quickly (Alicia Erlinger), just for giggles.
And, of course, the Queen herself – Elizabeth I (Elyse Mirto), regal and every bit as demanding as the moneymen who fund the theaters. There’s even a dog named Spot, inserted into “Two Gentlemen of Verona” on the insistence of one of the backers.
The scenes go by like a whirlwind, the only problem being insufficient miking, often making it often difficult to hear what is being said.
But “Shakespeare in Love” is a feast for the eyes, with Ralph Funicello’s versatile set, Susan Tsu’s excellent costumes and some period choreography by Annie Loui. Lighting and sound are well handled by Jaymi Lee Smith and Jeff Polunas, and a small combo led by Scott Waara adds Elizabethan-like music to the proceedings. And everybody’s having a whale of a time.
Looking for a bit of escape from reality? Try “Shakespeare in Love.” You won’t regret it.
“Shakespeare in Love” plays through February 10, 2018 at South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2:30 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2:30 and 7:30 pm
Tickets: (714) 708-5555 or www.scr.org