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Shakespeare in Love

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The 1998 film Shakespeare in Love was an irresistible treat--a return to the sort of prestige pictures Hollywood turned out in its Golden Age and a sumptuous period drama featuring a host of real-life characters. It boasted a star-crossed romance, attractive leads,  a richly talented supporting cast, a touch of swashbuckling intrigue, and a literate script that was smart without being intellectually taxing.

Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s screenplay won the Oscar and the film garnered Best Picture as well as both Best Actress awards. Playwright Lee Hall adapted the screenplay for the stage, and in 2014, the play received its world premiere in London. Our local premiere is now playing at South Coast Repertory.

Hall’s script closely follows, perhaps too closely, the screenplay. Shakespeare’s (Paul David Story) writer’s block is cured when he meets the beautiful and far above his station Viola de Lesseps (Carmela Corbett). Viola loves the theatre and is a particular fan of Shakespeare’s writing. She dresses as a man and wins a role in Shakespeare’s new play, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter,completely forgetting her haughty betrothed, Lord Wessex (Bill Brochtrup).

The romance between Shakespeare and Viola inspires the poet to new heights and Romeo and Ethel, rather quickly, evolves into the somewhat more familiar, Romeo and Juliet. Though romance is the heart of the story, much fun is had with the battling backstage quirks and egos of Shakespeare’s company. Danger pulses beneath the surface as Viola’s neglected court duties threaten their romantic idyll.

Artistic Director Mark Masterson directs this large scale, 23 actors in 40 roles, production with precision and economy. Ralph Funicello’s handsome scenic design and Susan Tsu’s detailed costumes nicely portray both Tudor style and its class system. Jaymi Lee Smith’s lighting allows us to feel the shadows, as well as the sun, in 16th Century London, and Music Director Scott Waara’s onstage ensemble add color with their playing of Paddy Cunneen’s period-inspired score.

Despite these assets, something is missing in the production. That all-important romance feels disappointingly tepid. And it doesn’t appear to be a simple lack of chemistry. Neither Hall in his script nor Masterson in his direction have found a theatrical equivalent for the film’s close-ups of Joseph Fiennes’ smoldering stare. And, without heat, the love affair becomes secondary.

That leaves the very talented supporting cast to shoulder the entertainment burden, a task they manage quite ably. Brochtrup’s straightlaced Wessex, Nick Gabriel’s swaggering Ned Alleyn, Corey Brill’s elusive Kit Marlowe, Bo Foxworth’s optimistic Henslowe, William Francis McGuire’s newly stage-struck Fennyman, Amelia White’s pragmatic Nurse, Louis Lotorto’s gallant Burbage, and Bing Putney’s smarmy John Webster make the most of their moments. As does the rest of the cast.

It is obvious that Hall has great affection for the film. But this production of Shakespeare in Love doesn’t make a compelling case that the film needed a stage adaptation.

South Coast Repertory   January 20 – February 10, 2018



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.