Arts & Culture

Shakespeare is the protagonist in Saint Martin’s spring play ‘Equivocation’

Courtesy of Saint Martin's University

William Shakespeare is at the center of Saint Martin’s University’s spring production — not as the playwright, but as the protagonist of Bill Cain’s 2009 political thriller “Equivocation.”

Called upon to write a play that will enshrine the king’s preferred version of events, the bard (here called Shagspeare, Cain’s preferred spelling) hunts for the truth and for a way to tell it that won’t send him to the gallows. A way, that is, to equivocate.

With its layers of history, speculation and theatrical references, the thoroughly researched play has been lavishly praised for its intelligence, yet there’s much to recommend it to those lacking in-depth knowledge of Shakespeare and his era, said Kathy Dorgan, who is directing the play opening Friday.

“It’s a great mystery,” Dorgan told The Olympian “It’s also very funny. Bill Cain was a writer and producer on ‘House of Cards,’ and this has that same political intrigue.”

Dorgan saw the play’s world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, and it seized her by the shoulders — almost literally so.

“My shoulders hurt at the end of it because I was so intent on figuring out everything that was happening,” she said.

So impressed was she that she went to see it again a few months later at the Seattle Repertory Theater, and she was far from alone.

Variety’s Bob Verini called it one of the “most bracingly intelligent, sizzlingly theatrical American plays in a decade.”

“From the first time I read (it), I was hooked,” Bill Rauch, the director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production and the festival’s artistic director, wrote in his program notes. “I sensed it was destined to join the canon of important new American plays.”

The Saint Martin’s production’s small cast includes both students and some of Olympia’s best-known actors, including Brian Tyrrell as Shagspeare and Jason Haws as Robert Cecil, the prime minister who assigns Shag to write an official version of the Gunpowder Plot, a failed attempt at blowing up the House of Parliament and assassinating King James I.

Other oft-seen local actors in the cast are Mark Alford, Andy Gordon and Xander Layden, and Tyrrell’s daughter Megan Tyrrell plays Shag’s daughter Judith.

That connection and Judith’s pivotal role in the action underscores another of the play’s themes: the importance of family.

As the program for the Oregon Shakespeare production noted, “The play ends up being deeply personal, as much about familial love and loss as religion or politics.”

‘Equivocation’

  • What: St. Martin’s University tackles history, politics and Shakespeare in a production of Bill Cain’s 2009 historical drama about the bard, his family and his band of thespians.
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Wednesday and Thursday plus April 12 and 13, with a matinee at 2 p.m. Sunday (April 7)
  • Where: State Theater, 204 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
  • Tickets: $12; for the Wednesday show, pay what you can.
  • More information: brownpapertickets.com/event/4188906
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