Shakespeare in Love

Translated by Dori Parnes Directed by Moshe Kepten Habima, November 5

William Shakespeare (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
William Shakespeare
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
It’s Eran Atzmon’s impressive set that’s one of two stars in this Shakespeare in Love. Its rectangular, two-story structure commands the big Rovina stage in a reconstruction of the Elizabethan Curtain Theater. The back wall is mobile and revolves to become stages within the stage, or other venues. The other star is director Kepten’s fluid staging that connects the play’s multiple scenes and characters so that each flows, as it were, into the other.
For the rest, Shakespeare in Love never exceeds affable.
Young Will (Daniel Gad) has writer’s block. He’s trying to start a play – let alone finish it – for theater owner Phillip Henslowe (Ami Smolarchik).
It’s called “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter,” and already we begin to grin because we know that it will become that most tender of Shakespeare’s tragedies, Romeo and Juliet, and indeed ideas for and snatches of it and other Shakespeare plays are enfolded into this tale of Shakespeare’s bootless passion for Viola de Lesseps (Danielle Gal), which she as eagerly returns. Bootless, because Viola must wed Lord Wessex (Amnon Wolf) in a union that marries Papa’s cash and Wessex’ noble lineage.
The rest of the tale has as many, and intentional, twists and turns as a Shakespearean plot, including Viola masquerading as a boy – there’s Twelfth Night to start with – a couple of adroitly acerbic appearances by Queen Elizabeth (Gila Almagor), a truly delicious turn by Pini – “I’m the money!” – Kidron as Fennyman, a worthily choleric splutter from yellow-stockinged Michael Koresh as self-important Tilney, Her Majesty’s Master of the Revels, an airy Aki Avni as doomed playwright Kit Marlowe, Will’s mentor and friend, and saucy young Eyal Ivshin as forever- popping-up tattletale (and future great of Jacobean theater) John Webster.
Roi Miller and Rotem Keinan swash and buckle with panache as Ned Alleyn and Richard Burbage, while Smolarchik’s Henslowe is properly craven and crabby by turns.
Ruthi Landau is very real, very apt as Viola’s nurse. Amnon Wolf is a consistently fine actor. It’s therefore a pity that his Wessex, rather than an arrogant yet blue-blooded bully, is merely thuggish.
But if you don’t have Viola and Will, if the two of them don’t pulsate like harp strings, if the burgeoning passion doesn’t burgeon, then Shakespeare in Love has no heart and becomes, in a way, just another clever sitcom.
As Will and Viola, Gad and Gal tried, they really did, but the night we saw the show, neither actor seemed able to invoke the necessary spark from the other to activate the leaven that turns what is essentially an amalgamation of literary in-jokes into a romantic comedy.
In addition, Yelena Kelrich’s Elizabethan costuming could have been better constructed.
To really work on stage as opposed to film, Shakespeare in Love must be very seriously light-hearted. Affable is not enough.