Review: “The Beard of Avon”

The centuries-old debate on just who did write the plays attributed to William Shakespeare takes center stage at the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center with their presentation of Amy Freed’s The Beard of Avon

Freed comes down squarely on the side of those who think Edward De Vere deserves the lion’s share of the credit and has written a comedy that mixes just enough fact with fancy supposition to make for an entertaining evening at the theatre.

Will Shakspere (Connor O’Shaughnessy) seeks a more exciting and fulfilling life than that of a simple country farmer, much to the consternation of his wife Anne Hathaway (Nora Summers, and not that one.) He dreams of the theatrical life and soon finds himself in the company of John Hemige (Rusty Thompson) & Henry Condel (Dan Stryker) and their merry band of players (Erin Lane, Lindsay John).

One of the behind-the-scenes patrons of the company just happens to be Edward De Vere (Martin Gilbertson). The 17th Earl of Oxford is a frustrated playwright who must use a front – or beard – to see his plays produced because the theatre is SO beneath his station in life. Shakspere seems to have a gift for poetry and dialogue (if not plot), so it’s a variation of his name that ends up on De Vere’s revamped scripts, as well as those of some other entitled folk like Francis Bacon (Greg Martin) and even the Queen of England herself (Elizabeth Henry). In no time at all, the beard of Avon becomes the Bard of Avon.

Qeen Elizabeth holds court in “The Beard of Avon”

Freed has written an amusing (if overlong) script that wraps the authorship debate in a mélange of comedic styles including some familiar Shakespeare tropes (impersonation, mistaken identity, etc.) All that’s missing from the show is a shipwreck.    

Director Beulah Vega has a good cast at work here. O’Shaughnessy is rock-solid as the earnest Will and displays a talent that should be utilized more on local stages. Gilbertson, however, is a bit shaky in the role of the sexually-fluid De Vere. While lack of confidence is a part of the character, Gilbertson’s hesitancy in line delivery seemed more a reflection of an insecure performer than an insecure character. Gilbertson’s done good work on the CPAC stage before, and if he can shake off the rust and step-it-up here some of the show’s pacing issues would be resolved.

Martin Gilbertson, Conor O’Shaughnessy, Nora Summers

The bulk of the show’s comedy is ably handled by Thompson and Stryker with bawdy support by Lane and John. Summer’s Hathaway has a pretty interesting character arc and she gets a few nice shots in as well. Henry’s Judi Dench-on-‘shrooms Queen Elizabeth is a sight to behold.   

The set consists mostly of a couple of bales of hay used in a very utilitarian fashion so it’s Holly Werner’s costuming that provides a sense of time and place.  

One part Shakespeare in Love, one part The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), and one part – well – Shakespeare, The Beard of Avon is a worthy addition to the canon of works that riff off the Shakespeare canon.

‘The Beard of Avon’ runs through October 24 at the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center, 209 N. Cloverdale Blvd., Cloverdale. Saturday, 7:30pm; Sunday, 2pm. $12 -$25. 707.894.2219. Recommended for ages 15+. cloverdaleperformingarts.com

Proof of vaccination and masking are required to attend.

Photos courtesy of the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center

This review appeared in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian.

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