Equivocation cast

Last Thursday night’s opening of Bard on the Beach’s Equivocation took place on newly-minted Howard Family Stage, in an evening of pride for both Paul and Darlene Howard (long-time Bard patrons and arts philanthropists) as well as Bard Director Christopher Gaze. The intimate stage is named to complement the Douglas Campbell Tent, whose title memorializes Shakespearean actor and Bard company alumnus Douglas Campbell (who passed away in 2009).

People-pleasing scribe William Shagspeare (in a top-notch performance by Bob Frazer) has been tapped to pen King James’ new play (a supposed “true history” of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot) and has two weeks to get ‘er done.

Anton, Anousha, Bob Bob Frazer, Rachel Cairns
[L to R: Anton Lipovetsky, Anousha Alamian, Bob Frazer; Bob Frazer, Rachel Cairns]

And, the King wants witches in the show! According to Robert Cecil, the King’s Prime Minister (Anousha Alamian, giving his character a pronounced limp), the play is the only chance at posterity for Shagspeare. Cecil’s limp is a shining example of Alamian’s physicality, allowing the audience to adjust between his dual roles in the play without having to utter a word.

Meanwhile, Shag’s acting company, the Globe, aka “a cooperative venture” is busy mounting shows of their own, including Shagspeare’s latest, King Lear, one that he’s struggling to complete.

“You’ve killed more kings than any man alive.”

When acting mates Nate, Sharpe, Richard Burbage, and Armin hear about the money to be made if the Gunpowder Plot goes forth, they quip back and forth, and finally decide to go for it.

All sounds good and well until Shagspeare takes a closer look at the government’s account, discovering a recently unsuccessful attempt to blow Parliament to bits with 36 barrels of gunpowder.

Shagspeare goes to meet soon-to-be-executed prisoner Tom Wintour (one of the plot’s conspirators), and unearths even more inconsistencies that deviate from the official version of what went down.

Rachel Cairns
[Rachel Cairns]

Nearly invisible to Shags is younger daughter Judith (Rachel Cairns), who adds, “How can there be anything true about a play?”.

As the actors are on stage questioning their roles, they also wonder how they’ll accurately portray the events of the play. Sharpe (Anton Lipovetsky) suggests that cannons be pointed to the river to emulate an explosion, avoiding Parliament. Much bickering ensues between the group, but at least it’s a start.

Audiences will enjoy numerous laughs in this production that poke fun at both actors and theater, teetering between the 17th century and modern times.

Shagspeare next seeks the advice of Father Henry Garnet, the author of a treatise on equivocation, to sort out the dilemma of finding a way to tell the truth.

Richard Burbage (Gerry Mackay) finally suggests going ahead with the shoddy story as the audience would see it for what it is, and the show would invariably fold after one week, allowing the company to get back to the business of working on their shows.

Equivocation draws clever references to other Shakespeare plays, their plot lines lifted and seamlessly integrated in a way that you don’t notice until it’s actually happening.

Anousha Alamian, Shawn Macdonald, Anton Lipovetsky
[Anousha Alamian, Shawn Macdonald, Anton Lipovetsky]

Macbeth could serve as an allegory for the current situation at hand (incorporating the King’s wishes to use witches in the play), as the witches equivocating in that Shakespeare play could fit right in with the Gunpowder Plot. This would in fact meet the King’s requirements without Shagspeare actually having to lie.

Anton Lipovetsky works through three varied roles with accuracy and brilliant delivery. Bob Frazer’s Shagspeare commands a presence on stage as he easily steps into the leading role. Gerry Mackay is equally excellent as Richard Burbage and Father Henry Garnet alike. Anousha Alamian, Rachel Cairns, and Shawn Macdonald round out the six-person cast who do a tremendous job in presenting the best elements of Shakespearean plays – double entendres, sword fights, an improbable resolution, soliloquies, and the play-within-a-play concept.

A long wooden table serves as the primary prop on stage, and is rolled out containing various props for each major scene. It’s a simple, yet effective way to keep pace with six tremendous actors, five of which have multiple roles in this fine production.

Scenes quickly morph in and out of one another, effectively enhanced by lightning, smoke, and strobe lights (Lighting Designer Alan Brodie, Sound Designer/Composer Tobin Stokes).

Gerry Mackay, Bob Frazer
[Gerry Mackay, Bob Frazer]

Costumes designed by Nancy Bryant make it easy for the cast to quickly change in and out of roles via one-piece outfits and large snaps or zippers for efficiency. Natural fibers and muted colours evoke the 17th century together with a variety of men’s collars, ruffles for Cecil, and silk organza for Shagspeare.

In fact, only Judith and Shagspeare appear on stage in anything more than black breeches, boots, and a linen shirt; capes, hats, and doublets serve as accessories to these basic costumes.

There are several plots woven through this two hour, 45-minute play-within-a-play (including one intermission); arrive at the theater with some energy!

In the end, Shagspeare finds a remarkable, unlikely source of encouragement in his daughter, someone who’s been there all along, yet has remained invisible to William for far too long.

Directed by Michael Shamata, in a co-production with Victoria’s Belfry Theatre, Equivocation continues at Bard Tuesdays through Sundays from July 2 to September 19 on the Howard Family Stage in Vanier Park. Warning: This show contains some strong language.

Photos by David Blue.


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