Center Stage’s production of Shakespeare in Love amazes audiences

By AMELIA ISAACS | November 9, 2017

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WIKIMEDIA/PUBLIC DOMAIN Shakespeare in Love is a play that presents an imagined history centered around the iconic playwright.

$20 student pricing for seats that normally cost up to $75, front row, Baltimore Center Stage Theater, Shakespeare in Love.

I don’t know about you, but as a student, finding out that I can get a deal for something makes my day, my week or even my month — depending on how good the deal in question is. Seriously, when there’s a 60 percent-off sale at American Eagle you probably won’t hear me shut up about it for a while.

So when I saw that all Baltimore Center Stage Theater tickets are $20 for students, I grabbed the closest friend to me and told her we were going to see Shakespeare in Love, despite her vehement hatred for Shakespeare.

As someone who is both English and an English major, I personally can’t get enough of Shakespeare. But I know that he’s not exactly everyone’s cup of tea.

Luckily, the play has a mix of both Shakespearean and modern language. While there are several extended sequences taken directly from Romeo and Juliet scattered throughout the play, these speeches are all well known.

As a result, the excerpts make the audience feel clever because they understand all of the little inside jokes and references.

The audience is eased into the world of London through a pre-show “warm up”: Two of the actors come and interact with the audience and perform a series of stretches and theatrical exercises.

Although this caused my friend to turn to me and remark that one of the actors couldn’t be English (to which I replied that clearly neither were), it serves as a fun opening to the play.

For anyone that hasn’t seen the 1998 Academy Award-winning movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes (which I also highly recommend), here’s a quick plot overview.

The play revolves around Shakespeare and his own struggle to write a play, which eventually becomes the Romeo and Juliet we know today, though it starts off as ‘Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter’ when the play begins.

His problems only become more convoluted when he promises the play to two different theatres and then falls in love with the noblewoman Viola De Lesseps — a woman promised to another man and who longs to be an actress at a time when women were not allowed on stage.

Mistaken identities, misunderstandings and hilarity ensues, as they would in an actual Shakespearean comedy.

Movies-turned-plays do not always turn out well, but Lee Hall (whose credits include the screenplay for Billy Elliot, as well as the lyrics for the musical) expertly adapted Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s Oscar-winning screenplay. I think the play is in fact better suited to the stage than it is to the screen.

Kwame Kwei-Armah, Center Stage’s artistic director, described the play.

“[It is a] charming story of love, discovery, the joy of making theater, and the English language,” he said.

Theater plays a fundamental role in the story and, as such, it makes sense for it to be performed in a theater.

There is something delightfully meta about watching a play about putting on a play and being in a theater while actors talk about theater being a “pit of seduction and lechery.”

There is even a sub-plot featuring Christopher ‘Kit’ Marlowe that plays with the long-held conspiracy that Shakespeare may not have been the sole author of his legendary works.

We not only see how Romeo and Juliet evolves from ‘Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter’ into the play we know today, full of Marlowe’s suggestions, but we also see Marlowe help a tongue-tied Shakespeare attempt to woo Viola (during a balcony scene, of course).

While this scene and several others in the play tread the line between witty sweetness and being trite and over-worked, the actors manage to stay on the former side, with the allusions to Shakespeare and his play working seamlessly throughout.

The play is also brilliant stylistically. The sets and costumes are beautifully designed and emulate something of the Globe Theatre in London and Elizabethan theaters.

My only criticism is that there were moments when there was just too long a pause for a reaction from the audience, usually for laughter.

However, that’s the only complaint that I have for an otherwise wonderfully fun and lighthearted production with a bit of edge. Who knows, maybe that’s just American theater and I’m not used to it yet.

To anyone who loves the theater, or even just likes it: Go see Shakespeare in Love. If nothing else, this play is a love letter to the theater. I guarantee that anyone who likes the stage will like this play.

And if you’re really not sold on Shakespeare and are still put off by his element, just wait until there’s another play that sounds interesting.

If nothing else, just make sure that you find yourself sitting in a seat that you only paid $20 for when everyone around you paid $75 at least once during your time at Hopkins.

Take advantage of being a student; escape Hopkins for a few hours and immerse yourself in another world. Trust me — it’s the best $20 I’ve spent this month, and not just because it was Nov. 3 when I went.

Shakespeare in Love runs through Nov. 26 at the Baltimore Center Stage Theater.

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