Equivocation Blends a High-stakes Political Thriller with an Explosive Comedy of Ideas
Bill Cain’s mixture of comedy, drama, history and politics shows what happens when England’s dirtiest politician tries to hire Shakespeare as his spin-doctor. Based on England’s 17th century Gunpowder Plot and inspired by the events following 9/11 and the war on terror, Equivocation “zooms along with all the hip humor of a writers’ meeting for Jon Stewart’s ‘The Daily Show,’” according to one critic.
Premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2009, Equivocation is a resolutely contemporary play blending comedy, tragedy, magic and farce to deliver a riveting story of power, corruption and deceit. It is performed by six actors who create a cast of 29 characters ranging from Will ‘Shagspeare’ and the ever-smiling King James to Robert Cecil, the king’s reviled Prime Minister, Shag’s brash daughter Judith and a coterie of assorted actors, henchmen, witches and martyrs.
The action takes place in London in 1605, when Shakespeare (Shag) is ordered by the King’s devious Prime Minister to rewrite the ‘true’ story of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot as a crowd-pleasing play. The Gunpowder Plot was an alleged attempt by Roman Catholic terrorists to blow up Parliament and the Anglican King. While the plotters wait in prison, Shag must decide if he would rather write a lie and lose his soul, or write the truth and lose his head. He walks this treacherous tightrope with the help of his theatre troupe, his daughter Judith, and by learning the art of equivocation (the use of ambiguous language to conceal the truth)
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In October 1605, an English nobleman received an anonymous letter describing a plot against the government. According to the letter, the plan was to blow up the House of Lords on Nov. 5, when King James would be present. During a midnight search of the House of Lords the night before the attack, a suicide bomber, Guy Fawkes, was discovered guarding a huge cache of gunpowder and was arrested. To this day, Guy Fawkes Day continues to be celebrated in England with fireworks and parties as effigies of Fawkes are burnt in bonfires to celebrate the foiling of the terrorist plot.
The Gunpowder Plot, as it came to be known, occurred some 60 years after King Henry VIII took control of the English Church from Rome, starting several decades of religious tension. English Catholics suffered persecution in a society dominated by the increasingly Protestant Church of England. Catholics who refused to swear allegiance to the new church faced fines, imprisonment, torture and execution. Fawkes and his co-conspirators, 14 men in all, were all Roman Catholics who had been active in efforts to combat Catholic persecution.
The government was headed by Prime Minister Robert Cecil while the investigation was conducted by the Lord Chief Justice, both virulent anti-Catholics. Many of the accused terrorists were tortured before confessing and identifying their co-conspirators.
It is noteworthy that the Gunpowder Plot occurred at the time Shakespeare wrote Macbeth.
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Cast & Crew
Emily Depew, Stage Manager
Molly Feibel, Judith
Harrison Forman, Sharpe
Trish Franklin, Props
Michael Frohnhoefer, Richard
Ellen Honig, Director
Michael Juzwak, Robert Cecil
Donna Letteri, Costume design
Jeremy A. Ratel, Armin
Lou Trapani, Shag
Andy Weintraub, Set & lighting design
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