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The Brand New Bard

University Theatre sets the sonnets on stage with Love.Will.Shake.
Andrew Nguyen as ‘Feste’
Andrew Nguyen as ‘Feste’

“Grief is the price we pay for love,” an actress concludes, and I can almost see the words as they drift from the somber stage. You can hear the assembled audience of college students nodding their heads in solidarity with the characters. Grief, love, sex and gross over-dramatization are hallmarks of many people’s freshman year at university and of Shakespeare’s sonnets. 

UO theatre professor/director John Schmor leads his cast in an experimental journey to dramatize William Shakespeare’s sonnets. According to his director’s notes, it’s an idea that had been haunting him for some time. When a space in UT’s fall line up opened, Schmor knocked out a skeletal rough draft in two weeks, then spent the rehearsal period rewriting and refining Love.Will.Shake. with the help of his cast.

And that’s just cool.

How does it work? The sonnets are lovely, but you can find that even among the most die-hard Bard-o-philes, many have only a passing acquaintance with them. The play then seeks to educate as well as entertain, and it is obvious that it is born out of love and scholarship.

There is a lot going on. Shakespeare is portrayed by two people, William M (Andrew Krivoshein) and William W (Olivia Walton.) In extraordinary costumes that are part dress, part pumpkin pant, William M has a larger role as the lover of both a beautiful young man (Evan Marshall as W.H.) and a dark lady (Tatianna Young) who has, remarkably, come to London from Africa to study shipbuilding and navigation. William W spends a lot of time laughing at her male counterpart, while having an affair with a female Hamlet (Brianna Kirschner).

But that’s just the primary plot. There are innumerable other plot-lets, and many of your favorite characters, like Helena (Shannon McInally) and Hotspur (Nathan Urbach) rolling through the show. Stealing the limelight are Rebecca Nachison and Steve Wehmeier as a feisty Queen Elizabeth and King James. Presiding over all the chaos of love and angst is Andrew Nguyen, a Feste in hipster glasses with a ukulele. It’s wild.

There were moments in this energetic, emotive show where I was reminded of last fall’s Batboy, such as an impromptu orgy, this one featuring boots and shoes rather than fantastical creatures, and “willful cross-dressing.” There were other times I was reminded of Shakespeare in Love, as we see William M working on scenes for Romeo and Juliet, only this time Juliet is played by a man. 

Ultimately Schmor is an entertainer: he knows the value of a well-timed joke and breathtaking visuals. The design crew at the UO turns out remarkable costumes by Alexandra Bonds and truly beautiful lighting design by Janet Rose.

Lusting, sighing, laughing, fighting; the cast of Love. Will. Shake. bare it all with heart in this unique production, calling us to give ourselves over to the glories and grief of love.

Love.Will.Shake runs at the Robinson Theatre Nov. 2-17.