REVIEW: Equivocation at Arden Theatre Company

Philly Shakespeare vets take on the Bard in deeply satirical, deeply dark, and deeply humorous ways.

Eric Hissom as Shag | Photo by Mark Garvin.

Eric Hissom as Shag | Photo by Mark Garvin.

The deeply satirical, deeply dark, and deeply humorous Equivocation opened this Wednesday evening at the Arden’s Arcadia Stage, and the Bill Cain play is so good that one can’t help but be moved by the rough-and-tumble troupe of quasi-Shakespeare actors.

But in this play-within-a-play, it isn’t quite William Shakespeare: It’s Shagspeare, Shag for short, and the actors, who in real life have all previously played a combined total of over 100 of the actual Shakespeare’s great works, take on the complexities of how artists and writers deal with questions of truth, morality, and death.

Equivocation is roughly three hours, but you wouldn’t guess it: The show moves lightening fast, and that’s due to equal parts excellent staging by director Terrence Nolen and absolutely amazing performances from the cast.

Eric Hissom is particularly fantastic playing Shag, who is about as far from the stereotypical Bard as you can get. He enjoys uttering the word “fuck” as if he was a David Mamet character, and he’s deeply bothered by his own personal demons and the complex relationship he has with his daughter Judith, played here by the excellent Campbell O’Hare.

Dan Hodge as Nate, Sean Lally as Sharpe, and Anthony Lawton as Armin | Photo by Mark Garvin.

Dan Hodge as Nate, Sean Lally as Sharpe, and Anthony Lawton as Armin | Photo by Mark Garvin.

The troupe of Shagspearian actors—Dan Hodge, Sean Lally, Anthony Lawton, and Ian Merrill Peakes—were truly sharp and amazingly in-sync with their physicality throughout the show. It was a particular joy watching Mr. Peakes as Macbeth. Coincidentally, he played that role in Arden’s actual production of the Shakespeare drama last season.

I was deeply touched by the final scene of the show, which, without giving too much away, is presented in a stunning staging: Shag is stripped completely naked, basking in white light, as Judith finally comes to terms with how her father’s past shaped his relationship with her. Her last soliloquy moved me to tears.

There’s also lots to laugh at, especially for those who are up on their actual Shakespeare: The play makes references to plenty of his works, including an ongoing gag with King Lear. In fact, the first time we meet the Shagspearian troupe, they are in rehearsal for Lear, all wearing white drawstring briefs, pretending to be madmen. It’s rather humorous.

It does speak volumes to the creative power of the Arden to have this remarkable work playing while their highly acclaimed production of Metamorphoses runs in their larger theater right below. For performing arts lovers in Philly, it doesn’t get much better.

‘Equivocation’ runs at the Arden now through December 13th. For tickets and more information, visit their website.

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