[NoHo Arts District, CA] – A NoHo Arts theatre review of “The Book of Will” by Lauren Gunderson, co-directed by Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott at A Noise Within.
I grew up in England and every year my school took a trip to either London or Stratford to see a play. Usually something classic, sometimes a West End musical. But the plays I remember, the ones that made me think and feel and changed me in an imperceptible and a myriad of ways were always by Shakespeare. Latter I studied theatre in college and my first job ever was as a dresser in a theatre…so I am connected, deeply to it. It’s home to me. So naturally a play about Shakespeare and his legacy is something I could not miss…and at The Noise Within no less!
This final play of A Noise Within’s season is a love letter to Shakespeare. Only a few years old, Lauren Gunderson’s “The Book of Will” has been lauded by many, received multiple awards, and been produced over and over again, all over the world. And with good reason.
The play is set just a few years after William Shakespeare’s death and is the dramatized true story of the remaining players of the King’s Men, Shakespeare’s acting troupe, and their quest to save his plays from being lost forever. Shakespeare famously never wrote his whole plays out for fear they would be stolen.
So the King’s Men have only bits and pieces and handwritten sides, notes by stage managers and their memories. Richard Burbage, the leader of the troupe had memorized every word Shakespeare ever wrote. But he dies and with his passing the pressure is really on to gather the texts, write out the plays completely, and free the world of the opportunist hacks who claim to perform terrible versions of his masterpieces and pass them off as his work. Or “shit wrapped in roses,” as Burbage painfully calls them, with “Two Gentlemen of Antwerp” being one recent production they have no power to shut down.
And so the quest begins. With the help of their brilliant resourceful wives and John Hemming’s fierce daughter Alice, the two remaining Kingsmen rally forth into the fray with the ultimate goal of publishing a folio of Shakespeare’s completed works…”The Book of Will.”
I was utterly unprepared for the brilliance of this play. A Noise Within is a wonderful company and a treasure of the Los Angles arts scene. But this production of Lauren Gunderson’s celebrated play was just astonishing. It’s as if the play were written for this company.
The actors perform magical feats of realism and transport us all to the streets and the taverns and the homes and The Globe itself. They speak in Shakespeare’s language and in modern language too, and the melding of the two feels natural and absolutely perfect for the story and the vivid beautifully drawn characters.
Honestly, you could hear a pin drop in the packed theatre, in between the roars of laughter and the gasps of bliss…and I cried, but of course I did.
This play is not just about Shakespeare’s legacy, it’s about the love of friends, the love of theatre, the love of being able to share a stage for a few hours with actors and audiences and to make something new and beautiful each time you do it. My husband, who is an actor, had a hard time staying in his seat, yearning to leap stage ward and join the chorus of excellence.
“The Book of Will” is superb. I have honestly never seen anything better. It’s National Theatre good. But these players…they were to a person magnificent. Watching this play was an out-of-body experience. I have told everyone I can to see it, and I am going back to see it again…soon!
Lauren Gunderson has done something beyond wonderful. She has gifted the world a play that touches the face of the bard himself. And with the gorgeous and exquisite direction of Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, and the incredible creative team the play becomes a dream made real. These actors made me gasp with joy and weep with love. I cannot recommend it enough…this truly feels like a once-in-a-lifetime convergence. The actors, the play, the place. We need to be lifted out of our lives right now…more than ever. And I am so grateful to have been levitated by The Noise Within’s incandescent “The Book of Will.”
Through June 4
3352 E Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91107
Geoff Elliott and Jeremy Rabb, Stanley Andrew Jackson, Nicole Javier, Kasey Mahaffy, Trisha Miller, Deborah Strang and Frederick Stuart, and guest artists Chuma Gault and Kelvin Morales.
The creative team includes scenic designer Frederica Nascimento; lighting designer Ken Booth; sound designer Robert Oriol; video designer Nicholas Santiago; costume designer Angela Balogh Calin; wig and make up designer Shelia Dorn; dialect coach Andrea Odinov; and dramaturg Miranda Johnson-Haddad. The rehearsal stage manager is Deena Tovar. Producing sponsors are Terri Murray and Patricia Hoppe, and sponsors are Kathy and Jim Drummy.