‘Equivocation’ brings on the Bard with gusto 

There’s no equivocating: The Bay Area premiere of Bill Cain’s “Equivocation” is a hit.

The exhilarating show, which had its world premiere at Oregon Shakespeare Festival last year and won a 2010 American Theatre Critics Association award for best new play, has been extended twice at Marin Theatre Company in a rousing production directed by Jasson Minadakis.

Shakespeare fans and scholars will take special delight in the deliciously dense and often funny dialogue and plot, about what happens in 1605 London when King James hires Shakespeare to write a propaganda play about an unsuccessful attempt on his life, known as the Gunpowder Plot.

Politics, drama, ethics and intrigue enter the mix as William Shagspeare, or “Shag” (Charles Shaw Robinson), and his fellow troupers of the Globe Theater engage in lively debate about the validity of the project, which results not in what the king ordered, but “Macbeth.”

Cain packs his fast-paced story with amusing and gruesome real-life details sure to thrill literature and history experts and to send those less educated to the Internet to find facts to support the wild, brainy shenanigans onstage.

Though historical, the show has a vivid, contemporary feel. Cain’s dialogue is less flowery than Shakespeare’s, and Fumiko Bielefeldt’s costumes magically fit both the 17th and 21st centuries.

Moving constantly but not frenetically on an eye-catching set of scaffolding that looks like the Globe, the six cast members clearly are having a heck of a good time.

Robinson captures Shag’s conflicts and hesitations with nuance, responding articulately as the king’s emissary Sir Robert Cecil (a smashingly conniving Andrew Hurteau, who also plays actor Nate Field) cajoles him to take the commission using both insults and compliments.

At the same time, he can’t bridge his distance with his no-nonsense daughter Judith (a smart Anna Bullard in a complex role that contains the story’s essential sentiment), whose twin brother died.

Craig Marker scores three times: as Richard Sharpe, the Globe’s youngest, most vain actor; a prisoner accused in the plot against the government; and, sporting a fun Scottish accent, as King James himself.

Andy Murray shows strength both as Richard Burbage, the pragmatic Globe actor wanting to keep the company in business, and Henry Garnet, the Jesuit thought to be the mastermind behind the plan to blow up parliament.

Lance Gardner rounds out the cast as comic actor Robert Armin and other supporting characters.

Although “Equivocation’s” excellent program notes will fill patrons in on history that may enhance understanding of the proceedings, even without them, the show serves up fascinating, fulfilling entertainment for art lovers of all backgrounds.

Theater review

Presented by Marin Theatre Company

Where: 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. most Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. most Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; extended through May 2
Tickets: $15 to $54
Contact: (415) 388-5208, www.marintheatre.org

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Leslie Katz

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