Theatre Review: ‘Equivocation’ at Kavinoky Theatre

Arianne Davidow, Darryl Semira, Chris Avery, Adriano Gatto, Chris Guilmet, Guy Balotine. Photo by Diane Almeter Jones.

Those 17th Century British Catholics: in an attempt to overthrow the (Protestant) government and monarch, they thought if they could just pack the Parliament with gunpowder and blow the dickens out of the place, the faith could rule. King James I was not amused.  He also knew he wanted to control the spin. Since social media was 400 years in the offing, perhaps the most eloquent commentator of the day – William Shakespeare – could be commissioned to write a play that would (pardon the pun) blow the lid off this conspiracy and make Great Britain Safe Again.

. . . a worthy night of theatre. 

But the King and his minions had one script in mind, while the Bard and his social conscience wanted to depict something with more authentic with fewer alternative facts.  When your head (literally) is at stake, what’s a Bard to do?

That’s the gist of Equivocation, the drama that’s closing this season at Kavinoky Theatre. I’ll be blunt: I struggled with playwright Bill Cain’s script. Most roles – except for the Bard himself (played by Guy Balotine) and his daughter Judith (Arianne Davidow) – were double cast, and this added to my confusion with the storyline that jumped from backstage, onstage, and offstage.

That’s not to say the production wasn’t well executed. David King’s set was – as usual – evocative and eye-attracting. Hearty hewn faux stonework on the Kav’s luscious Edwardian stage was just right, and using two levels of staging kept the action brisk. I loved how director Katie Mallinson used the whole house to create a surround-sound setting. Actors entered from the back of the house, jumped down off the stage for some scenes, and even used the sideboxes. This is a great effect in smaller houses and puts the audience in the middle of the story. It’s just the story itself was so nonlinear and disjointed, it was a challenge to stay focused.

There were plenty of good moments: hearing Shag (as Shakespeare is called by his peeps) reference his other works – so familiar to us – the same way we might talk about the daily grind of our own workplaces is a hoot. When the King’s staffer says His Maj wants something “with witches,” there were plenty of knowing snickers from the audience. There were some “Hamlet” references, too, and other familiar moments that made the audience engage. It’s Judith who gets her father on track with fulfilling (some) of the King’s wishes when she saves a discarded script the Bard intended to chucked away.

The ensemble has lot going on with this show. Christopher Avery, Christopher Guilmet, Adriano Gatto, and Darryl Semira are changing tunics, crowns, skirts, and wigs to keep up with the flow of characters. Gatto pulls extra duty as the fight director, too, as plenty of punches were thrown, and a there was a pretty good sword fight, too. They handled the fluctuations of their roles well, often doffing robes and tunics on stage as their personae changed.

The two most used words were equivocation (yes, there’s plenty of evasiveness spoken here) and soliloquy which Judith says she hates, but she delivers a couple fine ones. As the only woman on stage, Davidow commands her scenes easily. It’s so good to see her in a straight acting role again, after several (exceptionally fine) musical performances in “The Producers,” “Mamma Mia!” on this stage and most recently in “Million Dollar Quartet” at Shea’s 710.

Brian Cavanagh’s lighting got to catch glints of steel off those dueling swords, and even got to create a couple pretty impressive lightning storms, too.

Before you head out to the Kav, take Cole Porter’s advice and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”  to get the most out of this one. It’s a worthy night of theatre, but be prepared to give it all of  your attention.

The Kavinoky took its share of licks this season, and had some pretty grand moments, too. Next season – its 40th – is packed with promise, drama, and two musicals, too. I can’t wait.

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 minutes-with a 15-minute intermission.

“Equivocation” runs until May 19, 2019 and is presented at Kavinoky Theatre. For more information, click here.