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LA Theater Review

Circle of Will

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It seems almost a theater law that when a playwright sets out to depict writers, actors, and other theater folk, they must be presented as incurable hams and egomaniacs. And so it is with this play by Bill Cakmis and Jack Grapes, which purports to be about Shakespeare (Grapes, looking more like old-time B-Western comedian Gabby Hayes than like any portrait of the bard) and Richard Burbage (Joe Briggs). Nobody could accuse the authors of either subtlety or concern with historical accuracy.

The action is set in Burbage's flat (sic) in London in 1610. Shakespeare and Burbage have suffered a series of disastrous flops and are seeking to redeem their reputations. But Shakespeare's new play, "The Murder of Gonzago," is an inept pastiche with a script that's thicker than the Greater L.A. telephone directory. Burbage is in a snit because of late he has been cast as either clowns or women. He's threatening to leave and go off to Italy—taking most of the company with him, to seek employment in commedia dell'arte—unless old Will can come up with a heroic, upbeat ending for his new play. As they debate their plight, they fly headlong into meta-theatrics, stepping through the fourth wall to ask the advice of the audience.

The plot, such as it is, contains so many twists and quirks that it's almost impossible to write about without becoming a spoiler and revealing the play's surprises. Suffice it to say that the theater program is not to be trusted and things are not always what they seem. (One of the funniest and most engagingly wry and subtle performances is delivered by Gina Hecht, who is somehow not listed in the program at all.)
At times the play resembles an unsuccessful improvisation, in which the actors are stuck because they can't find a reasonable resolution. Much of the audience seemed to find all this hilarious, but I could seldom share their mirth. Maybe I know too much about the real life of Shakespeare.

Presented by Butterfield Road Productions and Tom Bracato in association with Macha Theatre/Films at the Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood.  July 16–Aug. 15. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.  (323) 960-7822. www.plays411.com/circleofwill.

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