DIRECTOR RICHARD GARNER REUNITES WITH FORMER GEORGIA SHAKES COHORTS FOR THE ALLIANCE’S ‘SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE,’ A HIGH COMEDY ABOUT A BARD WITH WRITER’S BLOCK.
“Shakespeare in Love” runs Aug. 30-Sept. 24 at Oglethorpe University’s Conant Performing Arts Center, part of the Alliance Theatre’s 2017/18 on-the-road season, necessitated by renovations at the Woodruff Arts Center. Tickets, details HERE
PARTING WITH GEORGIA SHAKESPEARE in 2014 was such sweet sorrow. That’s when the nonprofit professional company took its final bow after 29 years due to, one guess, financial difficulties.
But wait — what, ho? A reunion of sorts?
’Tis true. Director Richard Garner joins with a number of Georgia Shakes alums in staging the Alliance Theatre’s Shakespeare in Love, a romantic romp about the wacky world of playmaking. The 2014 script comes close to mirroring the 1998 Oscar-winning movie with Joseph Fiennes as Will and Gwyneth Paltrow as Viola, his cross-dressing muse.
Garner, co-founder and longtime artistic director of Georgia Shakespeare, returns to his former home at Oglethorpe University’s Conant Performing Arts Center to anchor this staging. He directs and plays the role of Henslowe, owner of the famed Rose Theatre.
Garner didn’t intend to direct and act. Acting means a larger time commitment, and in the three years since Georgia Shakes shuttered, he’s been in demand as a freelance director “without having to worry about paying anyone, thank God.”
But when Alliance artistic director Susan V. Booth director phoned and said he really ought to play Henslowe, he caved. “When she calls,” Garner says with a wry smile, “you know you’re a goner.”
Shakespeare in Love, which signals the start of the Alliance Theatre’s 49th mainstage season, is “a celebration of live theater itself,” Garner says. “That’s exactly what it is, along with a celebration of how artists in the theater work.” To embrace that, Garner says audiences will be in on the joke, witnessing backstage antics, actors getting into character and costumes, and collecting props.
The “dramatic comedy,” as it’s billed, premiered in London in 2014 to mostly positive reviews. The London Telegraph called it “the best British comedy since One Man, Two Guvnors (the last production ever staged at Georgia Shakespeare, by the way). As a play, the Telegraph said the story seemed “to have found its true home. It’s funny, often genuinely moving and generates a glow you could warm your hands by.”
The Alliance staging comes and goes as the play’s U.S. premiere continues at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; it’s a popular title this season among regional theaters nationwide.
Garner saw the movie version almost 20 years ago.
“I was looking at it through the eyes of someone who produces Shakespeare,” he says. “I remember thinking, ‘This movie is about the best thing in the world for people who are on the fence about Shakespeare.’ It put a face on it, made him seem like a real guy.”
Shakespeare in Love doesn’t pretend to be serious history. It’s a spirited lark about theater people making theater in late 16th-century England. Icing on the cake: a script devilishly sprinkled with bits familiar even to casual fans of the bard. And it features a real, live canine, which prompt the actors to recall the show-biz adage “never work with animals or children.”
“When there’s a dog onstage,” Garner says, “you might as well forget it. Any actor will tell you.”
The Alliance is doing Shakespeare in Love with a cast of 21, with many actors playing multiple roles. Thomas Azar, whose credits include the California Shakespeare Theater, TheatreWorks and the Magic Theatre, all in California, is Will Shakespeare. Atlanta-based stage and film actor Bethany Anne Lind (Troubadour, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Edward Foote) is Viola. Their pairing excites Garner.
“Bethany’s a chameleon, and she’s fearless,” he says. He calls her Laura in Georgia Shakespeare’ 2011 Glass Menagerie “stunning.”
Lind and Azar didn’t meet until Shakespeare in Love auditions.
“Their reading together was sublime,” Garner says. “I mean, they really went off the high board.”
This staging means a reunion for Garner and many of his former Georgia Shakespeare cohorts, including Barrett Doyle, Allan Edwards, Neal A. Ghant, Chris Kayser, Tess Malis Kincaid and Joe Knezevich.
As rehearsals prepared to begin, he said: “I can’t wait to get back into the room with those folks.”