William Shakespeare, one of history’s most famous writers, will battle the woes of writer’s block and experience the thrills of new love when “Shakespeare in Love” takes the stage at the Betty Long Unruh Theatre beginning Thursday night.
The play follows Shakespeare before he makes a name for himself. Strapped for cash, void of ideas and owing plays to at least two theaters, Shakespeare attempts to piece together what will eventually become one of his most famous plays. Young Viola De Lesseps takes the name Thomas Kent in order to try out for Shakespeare’s play. De Lesseps is Shakespeare’s biggest fan, but it is illegal for women to act in 15th century England. Between De Lesseps’ passion on the stage and the quick romance forming between the couple off stage, Shakespeare finds his muse.
The script is adapted from the 1998 movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes and Geoffrey Rush. The film won seven Oscars, including Best Picture. According to the local play’s director, David Jones, the production will be similar to the movie, but the script contains a few more scenes and more dialogue.
“I’ve got so many good actors,” Jones said. “It’s just going to be a treasure, it is going to be so cool.”
Tom Dunbar-Cerbone plays William Shakespeare. This is his fourth play with the Umpqua Actors Community Theatre, but his first leading role. In his last production, “Charles Dickens Writes a Christmas Carol,” Dunbar-Cerbone held six different roles. Now, he can focus solely on bringing Shakespeare to life.
“It is definitely new playing an iconic character,” Dunbar-Cerbone said. “I’ve been in a few different shows now and it’s one I never thought I would find myself playing and being able to do it is a surprise, but definitely a pleasant one.”
Dunbar-Cerbone said he is drawing on his own life experience and emotion to make the role his own.
“I’ve seen the film, but it’s been forever, so I’m not pulling from that. The story in Shakespeare in this is that he isn’t a divorcee, he is married, and that is a hidden part of his life. I’ve been divorced before and remarried, so I know the kind of struggle he might be going through with not being able to see his family and being kind of torn at the heart between theater and between marriage,” Dunbar-Cerbone said.
Stephanie Jones, who plays Viola De Lesseps, is new to UACT, though not to acting. She recently moved to the area from Ashland. She recognized the play’s title from the movie but had been unaware that it had been adapted to a stage play. She said she was very excited to read the script and fell in love with the beautiful verbiage.
“Viola is a very genuine character. In the beginning of the show, she is a young character. She is naive and she has this huge dream of what she thinks theater and storytelling is and it pushes her to make some daring choices,” Jones said. “She learns a lot, she has some hard experiences, but I think its a beautiful season for her. ... She is a really sweet character and she really grows and learns a lot during the show.”
Jones’ father, Carl Jones, is also part of the cast. He plays one of the villains, Fennyman, as well as Viola’s father. This is the second time the duo have been in the same play, but the first time they have played father and daughter.
Dustin Cosby, another UACT newcomer, tackles the role of main villain Lord Wessex. Wessex has a title but no money and seeks to rectify the problem by marrying Viola. Wessex believes what most believe during the time period — that woman are property. He is a constant obstacle for De Lesseps, both as her romance with Shakespeare blooms and to her budding dreams. Sleazy and slimy, Wessex will use any means to achieve his goal, including swashbuckling and an attempted ravishing.
While the cast suggests the play is more fitting for an adult audience, actor Ashley Chitwood was quick to emphasize that there isn’t anything promiscuous about the play.
“There is no nudity, there is no vivid sex scene, it is a clean show. It’s just implied and artistic,” Chitwood said.
“Shakespeare in Love” begins Thursday night and continues through April 20.
“This is definitely a wonderful, wonderful play,” Dunbar-Cerbone said. “You’re going to see almost every emotion possible, from love, fear, jealousy, hatred, laugh, cry, you’re going to see it all.”