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Author: Jill Kimball

CSF stages Bill Cain’s ‘Equivocation’

Variety calls it “one of the most bracingly intelligent, sizzlingly theatrical American plays in a decade.” CurtainUp calls it “ingeniously witty.” And its director calls it the ultimate love letter to theatre.

This summer, one of the many ways the Colorado Shakespeare Festival pays tribute to William Shakespeare on the 400th anniversary of his death is with a production of “Equivocation,” a contemporary play set in 1606 England that’s equal parts thrilling, touching and timeless.

Written by Bill Cain in 2008, “Equivocation” follows William Shakespeare, or “Shag,” as he finds himself at the perilous crossroads between artistic integrity and survival when King James I commissions him to rewrite the history of England’s infamous Gunpowder Plot. Under the surveillance of a security state, Shag must decide whether to rewrite history and sell his soul or tell the truth and pay with his life.

“If you’ve never seen Shakespeare at all, this is a great entry into his world,” says Wendy Franz, who directs the play and serves as the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s managing director. “You’ll get a CliffsNotes version of a number of his plays and come to understand what he was all about. It’s an exciting political thriller that feels fast like a movie but is made for the stage.”

When Cain wrote “Equivocation,” says Franz, he was inspired not just by the political events of Shakespeare’s time but also with today’s debates about government surveillance, censorship and torture tactics.

“’Equivocation’ deals with big, complicated questions, including facing the dilemma of art versus survival,” Franz says. “But it’s also full of smaller, intimate moments with a cast of delightful, strong-willed characters who all have their own secrets,” Franz says. “We all have secrets, too, so I think that’s very relatable.”

But the play isn’t all politics and personal relationships. When it comes to special effects, “Equivocation” fires on all cylinders. Audiences will witness brilliant pyrotechnics, sword fights, fist fights and simulated beheadings and hangings.

Perhaps the biggest technical feat of all is the way the cast pulls off each production of “Equivocation,” with all its special effects and quick changes.

“Almost all of the cast members will play between two and seven different characters,” Franz says. “They’re going help each other change costumes and move furniture. The actors do all the work.”

That’s not altogether different from the way Shakespeare’s own acting company worked at London’s Globe Theatre in the early 1600s. Because his actors did absolutely everything together, they weren’t just professional colleagues—they were also each other’s family.

“In Shakespeare’s day, his acting company was famously tight,” says John Hutton, a New York-based actor who plays Henry Garnet in “Equivocation.” “They went all over the world together, they owned those plays. They were a true ensemble.

“That will be an interesting challenge, to achieve that kind of collegiality with the rest of the cast in just a few weeks of rehearsals. It’ll be a wild ride.”

Franz says she’s game for the challenge. She plans to spend a couple of days reading the script closely with cast members and encouraging each of them to share their expectations and fears with the group. In the end, she hopes to foster the same collegiality Shakespeare’s actors had so that their closeness shines through on stage.

“Shakespeare’s troupe lived together, worked together and did amazing things with almost nothing,” she says. “They spoke this beautiful language and put on amazing experiences that lifted people out of their crazy or mundane lives. I hope we can do the same.”

For tickets and more information, visit this page.