What better place to see “The Book of Will” than at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Allen Elizabethan Theatre?
This joyful, endearing new comedy by Lauren Gunderson, one of the country’s most produced playwrights, traces the efforts of Shakespeare’s friends to publish a collection of his plays before they could fall into oblivion.
Three years after Shakespeare’s death, his scripts are scattered, lost, forgotten in trunks, and pirated in badly distorted versions. Shakespeare’s colleagues, John Heminges and Henry Condell, as well as leading actor Richard Burbage, concoct the idea of reconstructing the true copies of the plays and publishing them in what comes to be known as the First Folio.
As directed by Christopher Liam Moore, a master of comedy, the action takes place in a bar next to the Globe Theatre. This setting easily transforms into a print shop and various dwellings, often seen simultaneously as the action spills into new locales.
Every character is unique and lovable, even the swindling printer. The cast members, most playing multiple roles, are among the festival’s finest. All the women, including Kate Hurster, Kate Mulligan and Catherine Castellanos, are strong enough to keep their men on task.
Jeffrey King as Heminges, David Kelly as Condell and Kevin Kenerly as Burbage share a deep sense of nostalgia for lost friends. Cristofer Jean is appealing as an oddball editor.
Like Shakespeare’s comedies, “The Book of Will” is uproarious, tender and surprisingly moving. The powerful ending shows how the Bard’s plays have touched the hearts and minds of the entire world. If you love Shakespeare you’ll love this play. If you don’t yet realize how much he has influenced your thinking, the play will make you want to explore his works and discover his greatness.