By Bill Cain
Directed by Alain Chamsi
Equivocation is a multi-layered celebration cum mockery of Shakespeare, combined with a questioning of the accuracy of the accepted version of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot to blow up the English Houses of Parliament and assassinate King James I. It also attempts to answer the perennial question about the nature of truth.
Not to equivocate — that is not to use ambiguous language to conceal the truth or to prevaricate — this 2009 script by Bill Cain (who happens to be a Jesuit priest) is muddled rather than subtle, and, while packed with information, too complicated in format to be entertaining. (There were numerous walkouts at intermission on opening night.)
It begins with Sir Robert Cecil (the king’s beagle) commissioning Shagspeare (a.k.a. William Shakespeare) to dramatize a story that King James has written, delivering the true (or is it the propaganda version?) of the Gunpowder Plot. Refusing what seems to be an impossible task is not an option.
As Shagspeare tries to write, his company of actors present scenes from his other plays, while his daughter, Judith, — the twin of his dead son, Hamnet — makes cutting comments about his work.
Eventually, after interviewing two of the imprisoned conspirators, Shagspeare uses an alternate script. The company presents his Scottish play, Macbeth. King James is also James VI of Scotland and he says he wants to see witches on stage. The scene depicting James’ delight at seeing the witches is particularly annoying. James was renowned as a scholar. He was not a buffoon. There are other irritations, such as an anachronism about childbirth. (Yes, Shakespeare periodically included anachronisms in his works, but none jarred quite as badly as Cain’s reference to a Caesarian operation.)
The good news is that, while the erudite script is cluttered and heavy going, Kanata Theatre delivers a strong production. As directed by Alain Chamsi, the cast, four of whom play multiple roles, move smoothly in and out of the plays within the play. In the central role of Shagspeare, Bruce Rayfuse is an effective catalyst for much of the action. As Cecil, Gordon Walls — adopting a distorted figure and limp, emulating Richard III — is appropriately menacing and a fine contrast to his character as one of the acting company.
Ian Stauffer makes a clear distinction between his role as company leader, Richard, and the Jesuit priest, Father Henry Garnet, who was executed because he did not report information about the Gunpowder Plot told to him during confession.
An excellent set by Karl Wagner helps director and cast maximize the dramatic value of Equivocation but the muddiness of the over-ambitious script cannot be overcome, even by this solid production.
Equivocation continues at Kanata Theatre to November 19.
Director: Alain Chamsi
Set and lighting: Karl Wagner
Sound: Mike Bosnich
Costumes: Maxine Ball
Nate et al……………………..Gordon Walls
Sharpe et al……………………James Renaud
Armin et al…………………….Solly Balbaa
Richard et al…………………..Ian Stauffer