I can think of no better tribute to the best author of comedies, histories and tragedies than a play that can make me cry, laugh and learn about history. “The Book of Will” at Main Street Theater shows us why Shakespeare’s words are still powerful and moving to this day.
William Shakespeare would not be a household name without the help of the people who made a book from Shakespeare’s plays. The scripted lines from his plays existed in the memories of the original actors Shakespeare worked with. Collecting and publishing the lines was a monumental task in 1623. These friends and rivals raced against time and death to keep Shakespeare’s work alive by putting them into a book that would outlive them all.
“The Book of Will” is a play about telling stories. Stories are a part of what makes us human. Telling stories makes us feel alive. Theater allows us to live and feel other people’s stories for a moment. The written word allows us to relive the stories again and again.
Each of the actors in “The Book of Will” made me feel like I was going back in time and watching these seventeen-century thespians grapple with whether to publish the book or not. I was rooting for the characters at every step. I wanted to tell them that people will buy the book and read the plays of Shakespeare.
During the scene when John Hemings (Joel Sandel) and Henry Condell (Dwight Clark) are alone in the Globe Theatre, the audience was full of muffled sniffles. These actors truly made me feel the grief of their characters. You can also feel the joy that they take in their art and laugh with them at their predicaments.
I appreciate how “The Book of Will” not only includes the two male actors who are credited with collecting “Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies,” but also includes their wives and daughters as being instrumental in making the first folio a reality. These female characters have important roles in the play: they encourage, ensure and help Hemings and Condell in starting and completing the project.
Elizabeth Marshall Black plays Elizabeth Condell and Ivy Castle Simpson plays Rebecca Hemings, both are the enduring wives who are their husbands better halves. I like how they showcase these women as sharp and dynamic characters.
Brittany Bush played Alice Hemings, the strong-willed daughter of John and Rebecca Hemings. Bush portrays Alice as being smart, brave and passionate about theater and loving toward her family. It’s understandable why Bush got this part: Bush and Alice (my favorite character) had such a duo dynamic energy throughout the entire play.
“The Book of Will” is showing at Main Street Theater through Oct. 21. This cozy theater in Rice Village now has free College Nights on Thursdays. Make sure to reserve your seat online and bring your student ID. On other days, student tickets are $10.