THE BOOK OF WILL
I had not been to the A Noise Within theater in Pasadena in five years, so I paid that company a long-overdue return visit last week because the description of their latest show, The Book of Will, sounded promising. And it did indeed live up to my expectations!
I chose to see it because it’s primarily a comedy, and that’s the genre I try to limit myself to these days. I don’t need to see sadness on stage when there’s way too much of that in the real world; mirth is what I’m always going for. So I especially loved that one of the characters in this play feels the same way! She says something to the effect of “needing more comedies” as one “gets older,” and I add–from all playwrights!
Even though The Book of Will was written several years ago, and has been produced all over the country, I, shamefully, had never heard of it before. So I found the subject matter very interesting. The basic tale is that a group of Shakespeare’s friends and actors in his company seek to publish his complete works a few years after he died.
I cannot believe I never thought of that before in my entire life! Just how did people record things in olden times? I think my wonderment at how hard life used to be compared to now stopped at how people got directions before cell phones!
The subject intrigued me so much that I had to research it right away. And it turns-out that the basic premise of the play is, indeed, true! Shakespeare’s friends, who these characters really are, did publish his works posthumously! Fascinating.
So besides being very funny, and perfectly-acted, the whole scenario sort-of boggled my mind.
In all honesty, both my friend Marc, (who accompanied me that night,) and I are Shakespeare-eschewers. (I know that so many others are, as well, but once they become grown-ups, they’re loath to admit it!) So, when the production began with a scene from Hamlet, (sort-of—this one is as bad, on purpose, as if actors from my native Brooklyn are doing it!,) Marc leaned over and said, “Uh-oh.” But we had nothing to worry about because The Book of Will is only about Shakespeare; it’s not a Shakespearean play, (thank goodness for us.) So those of you who join us in our far-from-fanship of the Bard are good to go.
That being said, it definitely helps if you know a little bit about the works of Shakespeare. As Marc pointed-out afterwards, this was the first time in five years of seeing shows together that I kept laughing out loud, and he chuckled only a bit. (Those roles are usually reversed.) And that’s because, as the daughter of Speech and English teachers, I’m very familiar with Shakespeare, while he barely is. So, as *Kiss Me Kate tells us to do, Brush Up Your Shakespeare a bit before you head to A Noise Within for The Book of Will. *[Note: That’s my goony reference to a musical that’s based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, in keeping with the theme of the show.]
Of particular interest about this play vis-à-vis A Noise Within is that The Book of Will features a classical theatre company, performed by this classical theatre company! I actually love that parallelism.
While the entire cast of resident and guest artists is excellent, I must single out Kasey Mahaffy, who plays Ralph Crane, the scrivener. He made both Marc and me laugh the most. Then the next day, something hit me about him—when a different friend and I had seen Noises Off here five years ago, (it was the first show I ever saw at A Noise Within,) we had gone crazy for the funniest person in that play, too, and all of a sudden, my mind flashed back to those ginger tresses! So I looked-up my own review of that presentation, and lo and behold, it was Kasey who entertained us the most then, as well! And he had also done so in their Man of La Mancha that same year. Now I’ll always look for him.
Speaking of “looking for,” when you see The Book of Will here, make sure you check-out the very interesting decorations around the bottom of the stage. I think it’s scrolls or pages of books, but I’m not sure. I regret that I didn’t walk up close to the stage at intermission to determine if I was correct.
Now here are a few of my auxiliary observations on the whole opening night experience:
This is an amusing show, but there are a few (unseen, thank goodness,) deaths in it, which I could always live without. But it is a true story, so oh well.
I feel that actors who see it will understand the scenario the best. [Note: To that end, A Noise Within is offering complimentary tickets to striking writers and other members of the entertainment industry who are adversely affected by the strike. Go to their website at the bottom of this review to find-out more.]
This play brought up a fun memory for me. In The Book of Will, the actors from Shakespeare’s company congregate after each show at the adjacent ale house. (Or whatever they called bars back then.) That reminded me of The Coronet Theatre in West Hollywood, (the edifice is still there, but it’s a completely different entity now,) which had a separate bar downstairs and to the side, where everyone, performers and audience members alike, used to go after the shows. It was so much fun. And I don’t even drink! So I could just feel that atmosphere on the set of this play.
I cannot end this review without lauding the lovely personnel at the theater. They were all so helpful right from the start, none more so than Jessica Martin from Patron Services, who went above and beyond for us.
Also, a few words about the auditorium itself. It’s very comfortable with excellent sightlines from every section of the audience. Marc even commented on it because we actually tried out two of them! (We had to move from our original seats because the woman behind me kept coughing on me during the entire first half!) And there are very helpful seating charts all around the perimeter, which trust me, came in handy for many of us.
This may sound strange, but I also love that there’s a little trashcan by the restroom exit. I’m sure it’s there for those of us who always take a paper towel with which to open the door, and then have no place to dispose of it. I really appreciate that.
And lastly, there was a perfect opening night reception, to boot! It was nice to see that every single audience member was invited to it, which I believe is A Noise Within’s policy for all their openings. The fare consisted of a trio of muffin-sized items, which all went together so well—savory shepherd’s pies, and sweet treats apple pies, and the ones I’ve been craving ever since—surprise strawberry shortcakes! I wonder if people were lucky enough to have any of those in Shakespeare’s times.
The Book of Will running through June 4, 2023
A Noise Within 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. Pasadena