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Equivocation by Bill Cain – Los Angeles Theater Review




picture - EquivocationTheater Review

by Harvey Perr

published November 29, 2009



now playing in Los Angeles at the Geffen Playhouse

through December 20


What if, after 9/11, the Bush administration had sent a delegate to find America’s best playwright and offer him or her the opportunity to write a play about that explosive historical event which naturally favored the president’s perspective on the tragedy? (Never mind that that never would have happened.) What would he or she eventually write? Would anything get written at all? Would the subject alone prove too terrifying to be dealt with? Would the compromises forced upon the playwright clash with the creative process?


What if, should that idea not work, a playwright – Bill Cain, let’s say – found in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 to blow up Parliament an apt metaphor for 9/11, and therefore an interesting way to get King James II to commission the great playwright of his time – William Shakespeare, let’s say – with a similar proposal? Aha. The light bulb goes on. What might have happened then?


These are some of the not uninteresting questions Mr. Cain must have asked himself when he set out to write Equivocation, which debuted at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and which is now making its presence felt in Los Angeles at the Geffen Playhouse in a brand new production. Unfortunately, despite a conspicuous effort to assure that there would be style and wit and intelligence in the telling, Cain seems to be in professorial mode rather than in full-out playwriting mode. What he has written, in the first act, is an illustrated lecture volleyed about by six extremely busy actors rather than delivered by a Shakespeare scholar standing still at a lectern.  When it comes to an end, one can’t help hoping that, in the second act, they’d finally get to write the play, the possibilities of which they can’t stop talking about in the first.


picture - EquivocationBut, instead, the dithering continues, with endless allusions to familiar quotes from Shakespeare, including one – “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” – which should have been cut in rehearsals lest it should be used against the play itself (as right now, for instance). The creation of the Scottish Play (Macbeth, in case you are among those who know nothing about theatrical superstitions) takes up a large part of this act. The implication here is that Shag (as Shakespeare is called here) and his company of actors at the Globe are more interested in art than in politics. Well, what else is new? But – and it’s a big but – a reference to the Gunpowder Plot gets made, a kind of throw away, through the voice of a comic character – the porter – in the Scottish Play, which makes sense of this particular play’s title. And, as we all know, references to 9/11 have been made many times in many plays written since then, but there has been no single play to deal with that devastating moment in our history.


As it stands, it takes an awfully long time to bring to a conclusion a play about writing a play that never gets written. David Esbjornson, a usually dependable director, finds spurts of energy here and there, but it cannot honestly be said that he keeps things moving. Joe Spano (as Shag) underplays. And, as his leading actor, Harry Groener (who also plays the priest who defines equivocation) overplays. Why are actors always portrayed as more demonstrative than playwrights? The company of actors (Patrick J. Adams, Brian Henderson, Connor Trinneer, and Troian Bellisario) at least have the ardor and vigor of youth. And Trinneer, doubling in the part of Sir Robert Cecil, the king’s envoy, brings to the character an unctuous charm and fascinating physicality which announce an actor of considerable promise.


Whiffs of intellectual pleasure do pass through the proceedings from time. By and large, however, the garrulousness of Equivocation prevents it from being a cogent and persuasive evening in the theater. 


harveyperr @


photos by Michael Lamont


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