“The Book of Will” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Ashland, Oregon
at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Book of Will

by Lauren M. Gunderson
directed by Christopher Liam Moore 

“Masturbation is loads of fun,” sing Romanovsky and Phillips, and the Book of Will is loads of fun. It’s a truly enjoyable evening for theater aficionados and Shakespeare cognoscente. Excellent fun. Self-indulgent, self-centered, masturbatory theater fun.

The “play” is a cover to allow extremely fine actors to deliver some of the best lines of Shakespeare, one after another, from productions unrelated except that they share an author.

Kate Hurster, David Kelly, Kevin Kenerly, Jeffrey King. Photo by Jenny Graham.

Kate Hurster, David Kelly, Kevin Kenerly, Jeffrey King. Photo by Jenny Graham.

The Book of Will’s thin story that allows memorable speech to follow memorable speech — always superbly delivered, by the way — doesn’t really matter. If you need to track a plot, supposedly a bunch of actors from Shakespeare’s company are alarmed that the body of the Bard’s work hasn’t been preserved and they set out to gather the material for the First Folio.  They recite the great speeches and argue over the wording as they collect material for the folio. Or, something like that. Really, no one cares.

The performance is simply good, clean mental mastrubation for elite theater goers. I feel about The Book of Will the way I reacted to August, Osage Country. I felt privileged to experience a Master’s Class in acting as some of the best talent in theater take the spotlight for BIG scene after BIG scene.

The “playwright” for the Book of Will choose excellent scenes to showcase Will’s writing and the actors’ talent. And, make no mistake, the acting talent on stage is phenomenal.

Kevin Kenerly stands out for delivering the highest quality Shakespeare. He slipped most easily from his roles in the Book of Will (Burbage and Jaggard) into his Greatest Hits speeches. He managed to deliver the crowd-pleasing classics with restrained emotion that would have fit whatever play the excerpts were from. Really good scenes!

I also enjoyed Daniel T. Parker and his several characters (Barman 2, Dering, Bernardo). It was good to see him cast in parts where he was allowed to act and not just be the big fat guy on stage. He is talented!

Jonathan Luke Stevens was also given some real acting to do, even if in small roles (Marcus, Boy Hamlet, Crier, and Horatio). Good to see him is something other than comic relief.

Of course, being Ashland, almost all of the cast was terrific.

The play ends on a high note with an emotionally charged technical tour de force: a video montage that shows some of the actors on stage in their earlier Shakespeare performances at OSF. The video also highlights some deceased legendary Ashland stars in their best Shakespeare roles. The tug on the heartstrings is effective.

After a couple hours of hearing the great in great roles with great speeches, the First Folio is printed and the Book of Will is over. You will feel well entertained and happy to have seen the production.

Play rating:
Play Rating 3 out of 5 Syntaxes

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