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Lovestruck and writer’s blocked

"Shakespeare in Love" is a wonderful romantic comedy with a different take on the Bard

This Halloween season, Tacoma Arts Live offers a breezy alternative to spooks and ghouls. Photo credit: Jennifer Rosa

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What if William Shakespeare, rather than being a deified author of some of the greatest plays in history, were just a lovestruck doofus with a serious case of writer's block? This is the position taken by Shakespeare in Love, Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman's playful deconstruction of the Shakespeare mythos; while it doesn't play too far into the conspiracy theory of Shakespeare not having actually written his own plays, it shows the bard to be just like many other creative types: hungry for inspiration, open to suggestion, and largely guided by the whims of his heart.

Shakespeare in Love began its life as a lauded film, which Lee Hall adapted for the stage, and is now playing at Theater on the Square as a continued part of Tacoma Arts Live's foray into regional theater. Directed with winsome energy by Chris Nardine, this production of Shakespeare in Love is a wonderfully entertaining romantic comedy that celebrates its subject as much as it sends him up. As the play begins, Will Shakespeare (Rodman Bolek) is in debt to financiers, and struggling to even begin writing the play that will satisfy them. Will's confidence is not helped by the continued success of fellow playwright Christopher Marlowe (Micheal O'Hara), who has an effortless knack for rattling off beautiful verse.

Viola (Victoria Ashley), meanwhile, comes from a wealthy family, but wants only for a life in the theater. She's a fan of Will's previous works, and when she hears that there will soon be an audition for a new play of his (the working title of which is Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter), she disguises herself as a man and tries out for the lead. When Will and Viola eventually meet (with Viola not in drag, that is), there are immediately sparks between them, and the foundation of Will's writer's block slowly begins to crumble. But Viola is due to be married to the dastardly Lord Wessex (Spencer Funk), which endangers the future of both the play and Will and Viola's love.

The outstanding ensemble of misfits who make up the cast and crew of the yet-to-be-named Romeo play exude charisma, elevating the manic "let's put on a show!" energy of the big comedic set pieces. As for the romance, Bolek and Ashley share a magnetic chemistry, ensuring that there are greater stakes to the show than simply seeing fun fan fiction of Shakespeare's life. And, while there are certain jokes that may play better to those with a working knowledge of Shakespeare's life and the theories surrounding it, this is a crowd-pleasing play that would be just as effective for someone who's never seen Shakespeare's work -- in fact, the process of seeing parts of the play written, rehearsed, and eventually performed, may be quite helpful in getting a person into theater.

Breezy, funny, and boundlessly charming, Shakespeare in Love is an antidote to the dreary autumn blues.

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 3 p.m., Oct. 27 and Nov. 2-3, through Nov. 3, $19-$39, Theater on the Square, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, 253.591.5894,

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