Review: Shakespeare in Love (Chicago Shakespeare)

| May 19, 2017

Kate McGonigle and Nick Rehberger star in Shakespeare in Love 2 (photo Jeff Sciortino)           

Shakespeare in Love

Adapted by Lee Hall 
Chicago Shakespeare, Navy Pier (map)
thru Jun 18  |  tix: $58-$88  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   

 Now extended thru June 18


A near-perfect blend of action, intrigue and swoony romance


Linda Reiter, Dash the dog, Ryan McBride and Fred Geyer star in Shakespeare in Love

Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents
Shakespeare in Love

Review by Catey Sullivan

Sparkling wit, a feel-good romance and a sexy, sassy, intelligent heroine. With those elements firmly in place, Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Shakespeare in Love is just the thing to usher in the sunny, budding days of springtime. Based on the Oscar-winning movie of the same name, Shakespeare in Love is a fizzy confection that goes down as easily as expensive champagne. Thanks to Rachel Rockwell’s astute direction, it also has just enough of a bittersweet edge to keep it from tipping into saccharine sentimentality.

Nick Rehberger stars as Will Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love, Chicago ShakespearePlaywright Lee Hall’s adaptation of Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman’s screenplay deftly captures the spirit of the original. Herein, you’ll find malevolent villains you’ll love to hate, delightfully dunder-headed comic buffoons, and a pair of charismatic leading lovers whose relationship is just the right blend of sexual heat and tart-tongued banter. The plot is a near-perfect blend of action, intrigue and swoony romance.

The story centers on dashing young Will Shakespeare (Nick Rehberger), a struggling playwright contending with writers’ block as he tries to finish an ill-advised drama titled “Romeo and Ethel: The Pirate’s Daughter.”

As Will agonizes over “Romeo and Ethel,” his most ardent fan is reveling in the poetry of his produced plays, attending every show and mouthing every syllable of dialogue along with the actors. Because she’s a woman, Viola de Lessups (Kate McGonigle) is forbidden by law from becoming an actor. Nevertheless, she persists. In the spirit of her “Twelfth Night” namesake, she disguises herself as a boy and goes to work at the theater.

McGonigle is a delight from start to finish. As Viola, she’s believably besotted by both Shakespeare’s art and Shakespeare the artist. But although she’s deeply in love, Viola is no simpering fool – her ardor is laced with pragmatism and self-awareness. She knows the limitations of the world she navigates. That knowledge makes the joy she wrests from her impossibly restricted circumstances burn all the brighter.

Kate McGonigle and Nick Rehberger star in Shakespeare in Love 2 (photo Jeff Sciortino) Kate McGonigle stars as Viola de Lesseps in Shakespeare in Love, Chicago ShaekspeareShakespeare in Love directed by Rachel Rockwell, Chicago Shakepseare

As young Will, Rehberger is worlds away from the buttoned-up, somber-faced, middle-aged gent of countless Shakespeare portraits and busts. This Shakespeare wears his roiling emotions on his sleeve. His dedication to his craft makes his name feel like a verb as well as a proper noun. Centuries away from becoming an institution, Will is besieged by self-doubt, financial instability and raging hormones. Rehberger gets all of this, and gives Will the heady, brash gumption of a new crowned MFA launching an Off-Loop theater with no more than two planks and a passion.

Rockwell’s cast is also rich with marvelous supporting characters, roles that adaptor Hall has fleshed out to great effect in turning the 90-minute screen play into a two-hour stage play.

As Lord Wessex, Viola’s despicable betrothed, Dennis Grimes is a brutish, rage-triggering lout who wouldn’t know art if it bit him square in the jiggamabob. Larry Yando makes the theater owner Henslowe an enthusiastic but bumblingly inept arts administrator. His answer to all theater-related problems “I don’t know. It’s a mystery,” becomes more hilarious with each repetition. Timothy D. Stickney is appropriately larger than life as Burbage, a leading man so puffed up by his own vaingloriousness that he seems forever on the verge of exploding.

Last but miles away from least, Rockwell gives us Linda Reiter as Regina Maximus in Excelsis Deo Elizabeth Queen of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith. With an arch tone sharp enough to slice raw silk, Reiter is a study in proto-feminist magnificence. Her scenes are few but formidable. They are also the inarguable highlights of the entire production. Her scene schooling the menfolk on what women can and cannot do Will. Give. You. Life.

Nick Rehberger and Kate McGonigle star as Will Shakespeare and Viola de Lesseps in Shakespeare in Love

Shakespeare in Love isn’t a musical, but it has always felt like one; the dialogue might not literally sing, but it feels like the players have a song in their collective heart. Rockwell makes that music resound throughout, using Neil Bartram’s winsome original compositions like an additional character.

Shakespeare in Love is also strewn through with Shakespearean Easter eggs. Dialogue and characters from Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, and As You Like It (among others) are embedded in the plot. You don’t need any background in Shakespeare to enjoy Shakespeare in Love, but if you’re familiar with his work, you’ll have a fine time playing spot-the-reference.

Shakespeare in Love boasts a design team up to the tasks the production demands. Scott Davis’ scenic design evokes the famed “wooden O” where Shakespeare’s work was produced during the Elizabethan era. An overarching backdrop of flowery bowers gives the entire endeavor the feel of springtime and new beginnings. Susan E. Mickey’s elaborate period costumes are historically accurate eye-candy. And Robert Wierzel’s lighting design gives the production an atmospheric palette that augments the emotions onstage.

Rating: ★★★½

Shakespeare in Love continues through June 11 June 18th at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand, Navy Pier (map), with performances Tuesdays 7:30pm, Wednesdays 1:30pm & 7:30pm, Thursdays & Fridays 7:30pm, Saturdays 3pm & 8pm, Sundays 2pm & 6:30pm.  Tickets are $58-$88, and are available by phone (312-595-5600) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours 20 minutes, includes a 15-minute intermission)

Shakespeare in Love set by Scott Davis, Chicago ShakespeareKate McGonigle and Nick Rehberger star as Viola de Lesseps and Will Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love

Photos by Liz Lauren and Jeff Sciortino




Nick Rehberger (Will Shakespeare), Kate McGonigle (Violet de Lesseps), Michael Perez (Kit Marlowe), Larry Yando (Henslowe), Timothy D. Stickney (Burbage), Linda Reiter (Queen Elizabeth, Molly), Dennis William Grimes (Lord Wessex), Luigi Sottile (Ned Alleyn), Scott Danielson (Lambert, Wabash), Fred Geyer (Adam), Ron King (Ralph), Nathaniel Braga (Sam), Ryan McBride (Robin), Andrew Mueller (Nol), Jake Helm, Matthew Uzarraga (John Webster alternating), Jerre Dye (Sir Robert de Lesseps, Tilney), Alana Grossman (Kate), Jeff Kurysz (Peter, Frees), Ron E. Rains (Fennyman), Catherine Smitko (Nurse, ensemble) rescue dog Dash (Spot).

behind the scenes

Rachel Rockwell (director), Marc Norman, Tom Stoppard (original screenplay), Lee Hall (adaptation), Neil Bartram (original music, scoring), Scott Davis (scenic design), Susan E. Mickey (costume design), Richard Jarvie (wig, makeup design), Robert Wierzel (lighting design), Ray Nardelli (sound design), Jo Cattell (associate director), Matt Hawkins (fight choreography), Eva Brennan (dialect coach.), Liz Lauren, Jeff Sciortino (photos)

Kate McGonigle and Nick Rehberger star in Shakespeare in Love (photo Jeff Sciortino)


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Adaptation, Catey Sullivan, Chicago Shakespeare, Extensions-Remounts, Navy Pier, Video, William Shakespeare, YouTube

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