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"Shakespeare in Love"

John Carone as Will Shakespeare and Kelsea Ashenbrenner as Viola de Lesseps rehearse a scene from "Shakespeare in Love." In background, left to right, are  Robert Best, Nancy Homan, Cathleen Hockman-Wert, Josh Burlock, Cliff Feldman and Dick Weinman rehearse a scene from "Shakespeare in Love." The play will have performances Saturday and Sunday in the Majestic Lab Theatre. 

Photo by Rachel Kohler

When the Majestic Reader's Theatre presents "Shakespeare in Love" this weekend, it will be an ambitious attempt to perform the play as the script intended.

The original stage production included a live musical score.

And so will these performances, says director Rachel Kohler.

"Music wasn't a thing I was expecting to incorporate, but it came with a score and we paid for the rights so we were going to use it," Kohler said.

The play, based on the 1998 Oscar-winning film and adapted for the stage by Lee Hall, will have a performance Saturday night, followed by two more performances Sunday in the Majestic Lab Theatre. The stage adaptation is based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard.

Kohler has a Master of Fine Art degree in Shakespearean dramaturgy. Mike Aronson, the founder of the Majestic Reader's Theatre, suggested she direct the play.

"The script seemed like a natural fit," she said.

Aronson turned to friend Richard Wagner, a veteran director of musicals, who knew musicians who played recorders together, Kohler said.

The play will feature a combination of nine recorder players and singers joining a dozen cast members in the lab theatre.

It made for staging issues that are not typical for a reader's theater production, Kohler said: All the cast members are on their feet and moving around.

"The play is too complicated and action-packed to really make any sense as a stage reading in the style of people all sitting and reading," she said.

The action includes a scene at the ball with people swapping partners and exchanging words, fighting, and a game of keep away with a manuscript.

The cast of 12 actors performs many different characters, since the show has 36 speaking parts. The actors change in and out of elaborate costumes from a pile in chairs along the back wall of the stage, Kohler said.

The comedy centers on Will Shakespeare, played by John Carone, who is struggling to write his next play, which eventually becomes "Romeo and Juliet." He meets a woman named Viola de Lesseps (Kelsea Ashenbrenner), the daughter of a wealthy merchant who's in love with the theater. They fall in love and have a doomed affair.

Viola disguises herself as a man to audition for "Romeo and Juliet" and gets the part. Unfortunately, she is forced to marry Lord Wessex (Dick Weinman), a rich older man, in a marriage arranged by her father (Hannah Carter).

The remaining cast members are Cathleen Hockman-Wert, Don Taco, Robert Best, Nancy Homan, Cliff Feldman, Katherine Otten, Leslie Hogan and Josh Burlock.

"Everyone in this show is a spot-on hilarious performer with wonderful timing," Kohler said. "The script just comes alive as this hilarious romp with people yelling, jumping and throwing things around."


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