Friday, December 9, 2011

A Christmas Carol, A Montgomery Playhouse Production

In the month of December one certainly doesn't lack opportunity to see Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.    There are numerous film versions, play adaptations, musicals, versions that update the time period, and parodies.  There is something for everyone.    Yet, if you wish to experience A Christmas Carol as Charles Dickens' intended you could do not better than to travel to The Arts Barn in Gaithersburg, Maryland to witness a small company of actors perform this faithful tale of Christmas redemption.

The Arts Barn is a tiny space tucked in the midst of a residential development located near the historic Kentlands Mansion.   While the physical theater is small and the trappings of lights, sets and special effects is sparse, this brilliant theatrical adaptation by local playwright Timothy Shaw is noteworthy for one simple fact.   Mr. Shaw lets Mr. Dickens own words weave the tale.   For this is storytelling at its best.   Sit back, relax and let this talented small acting troupe carry you in your imagination to 19th century London and learn the lessons of charity, love and grace that Charles Dickens wished his original readers to learn from the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Director John Dickson Wakefield and his assistant director, Cecilia M. Rogers have coaxed rich performances from the acting ensemble, most of whom must portray several disparate roles.    The young siblings of the Tobin family gamely assay all of the young children's roles.  Matthew Tobin is a creepy presence as Christmas Future and charming as Dick Wilkins.  Danny Tobin is earnest as Peter Cratchit, poignant as the boy Scrooge and witty as the Goose Boy.  Liam Tobin is heartbreaking as Tiny Tim and scary as Ignorance.   Their sister, Maggie Tobin is adorable as Fan Scrooge and Belinda Cratchit and once again, scary as Want.

As the Cratchit mother Mary S. Wakefield will bring you laughter and tears.  She also is hilarious as the bold and brassy Charwoman.   Steven Kirkpatrick is the embodiment of noble humanity as Bob Cratchit.  Tears will be brought to your eyes as he poignantly recites the details of a significant death in the story.

Taylor Payne is a beautiful young ingenue who shows great acting promise.   She is loving as Scrooge's fiancee, Belle and full of regret as she breaks their engagement.   She is also quite charming as Martha Cratchit and the put-upon maid for nephew Fred.

J. Peter Langsdorf is charming and light-hearted as Scrooge's ever forgiving nephew, Fred.  He is well matched by Nicolette Stearns who plays his wife as well as the complex Ghost of Christmas Past.   Ms. Stearns shows great range as she is sympathetic and scolding as Scrooge's past unfolds.

Fred Nelson brings a regal grace to the Ghost of Christmas Present.   His whirlwind tour around the world with Scrooge in tow is a highlight of the production.   Mr. Nelson's jovial presence is tempered by his spot-on grave emotions as Christmas Present relates the grim realities of the sadder side of the season, represented by Ignorance and Want who travel with him to remind the world of the poor and the destitute suffering during the holiday season.  

On a lighter note, Mr. Nelson could form a comedy act with John Sadowsky as the two gentlemen who seek charity donations from Mr. Scrooge.    More seriously, Mr. Sadowsky provides deep pathos in the role of Jacob Marley.   Frequently, this role is simply performed for scary ghostly effect.    While Mr. Sadowsky is not the most frightening of ghosts, his Jacob Marley clearly mourns the choices that he made in life.   One gets the sense that he genuinely cares for his former partner and wishes to save him from sharing his terrible ghostly fate.

Arden Moscati takes the small role of Young Scrooge and helps you see the transition from eager young apprentice and ardent lover of Belle to the cold, heartless businessman that the elder Scrooge becomes.   He clearly is a younger version of our protagonist.

Glenn Evans is Ebenezer Scrooge.    His performance is so nuanced that his Scrooge truly is a real human being with real human failings in his life.    Mr. Evans is marvelous in his interactions with both the cast and the audience.  His gradual transformation from bitter, unfeeling miser to repentant humanitarian is a revelation.

In this adaptation you will see all of the shadows that Charles Dickens ghosts reveal to Ebenezer Scrooge without embellishment.   You will witness scenes from the story with which you may not be familiar.   You will also see all of the familiar vignettes that you may remember from the classic story you have grown to love.   At a family friendly price and visions of Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Future that are not too frightening, this is the perfect holiday treat to introduce the story to your children.

The Arts Barn Theatre Series presents A Montgomery Playhouse Production of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, adapted for the stage by Timothy Shaw through December 18, 2011.   For performance information please visit   For tickets, please call the box office directly at 301-258-6394.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Book Review: Mary Boleyn (pick your subtitle) by Alison Weir

Mary Boleyn has been thrust out of her role in history as the footnote to her more famous sister Queen Anne Boleyn's life.   Thanks to Philippa Gregory's popular novel, The Other Boleyn Girl and its subsequent two films, the more well-known of which starred Scarlett Johansson as Mary Boleyn, the little known story of this Boleyn sister has become popular, albeit in a fictional way.   For the truth is that we don't know very much about Mary Boleyn, just as the historical record is scant for most women of the 16th century, even those attached to the prominent families at the court of Henry VIII.    So, there has been much embellishment of Mary's story most of which has focused on her reputation as, how to make this family friendly, easy with her sexual favors.  

Alison Weir attempts to set the record straight in her new biography.   She is not the first historian to tackle Mary Boleyn as a subject matter.   As she points out in her book, Alison Weir is indebted to the previous work by Dr. Josephine Wilkinson who published Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII's Favorite Mistress in 2009.   However, as Ms. Weir points out, Dr. Wilkinson was given a page limitation by Amberley Press and was thus forced to edit down her research.   Not so, Ms. Weir.   And therein lies the problem with this well-researched book.   It is too well-researched.

There is very little in the historic record about Mary Boleyn's life.   We do not know when she was born or what the birth order was of the Boleyn siblings.   We do know that there were three children who survived childhood, Mary, Anne and George.  Ms. Weir also claims that there was a fourth Boleyn child, Thomas who lived until 1520.  Other historians dispute her findings on that and believe that Thomas, along with any other Boleyn children died young. (Thomas Boleyn, the father's famous she brought me forth every year a child comment)

We know that Mary Boleyn was one of the maids of honor who accompanied Princess Mary Tudor to her wedding in France and was one of the few English ladies not dismissed by King Louis XII as recent research has produced a previously unknown list of the women paid for their service to Queen Mary for the last three months of 1514.

We do not know when Mary Boleyn returned to England.    We do know that she was married to William Carey, a gentleman of King Henry VIII's privy chamber in February 1520 and that she attended Queen Katherine of Aragon at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in June of that year.    In March 1522 she was one of the eight ladies featured in a masque who defended the Chateau Vert dancing the role of Kindness.   She bore two children, a daughter Katherine, whom recent scholarship has proven was the eldest child, born around 1523/1524 and a son, Henry born in 1525/1526.   Her husband William Carey died in the sweating sickness epidemic of 1528.

Mary Boleyn is not in the historic record very much during the rise of her sister, Anne Boleyn, who made her first recorded appearance at the English court in that same Chateau Vert masque, portraying Perseverance.   During King Henry's annulment proceedings against Queen Katherine of Aragon we glimpse the only evidence that Mary Boleyn had a sexual relationship with the King.   King Henry VIII was granted a Papal dispensation in 1528 granting him permission to marry a woman to whom he was related to within the first degree of affinity.  What that means is that he had sex with a close female relative.    Later in the proceedings the King was recorded replying when asked if the rumors were true that he had sex with both Mary and her mother, Elizabeth Boleyn, the King replied "never with the mother."    Yet  except that single document and one statement from the King absolutely everything else known about Mary Boleyn's relationship with King Henry VIII is conjecture.

Ms. Weir is tireless in her examination of every single reference to Mary Boleyn by previous historians and historical fiction writers.    The book contains every single reference to Mary Boleyn which Ms. Weir either confirms or refutes.    Enough is enough.   The points that Ms. Weir are making are amply made without quoting every single one of them.    We do not need several pages discussing the birth order of the Boleyn siblings.   We do not need page after page refuting Mary's sexual reputation.    Judicious editing could make this book a much less mind-numbing read.

For the record, Ms. Weir does believe that Mary Boleyn was the mistress of Francois I of France, but only briefly.  There is absolutely nothing in the historical record of the time that makes mention of it.   She also believes that Mary Boleyn's affair with King Henry VIII was short and relatively insignificant.   She makes a good argument for believing that if either of Mary Boleyn's children were the children of Henry VIII it was the elder one, Katherine, as King Henry made grants to Mary Boleyn and Katherine Carey following the death of William Carey that could be identified as means for financially taking care of his bastard daughter.   Ms. Weir also cites royal references in Sir Philip Sydney's poetry written to honor Katherine Carey's daughter Penelope as possible evidence that Katherine Carey was Henry VIII's daughter.  Yet, it is still speculation unless one can find a way to do DNA testing on Henry VIII and Katherine Carey it can never be proven.

Ms. Weir does a good job of showing that what other writers have used to prove that Mary Boleyn was King Henry VIII's mistress from 1522-1526, mainly the grants of offices and lands to her husband William Carey, is false.   William Carey received nothing out of the ordinary for a man of his position at court.    Ms. Weir also shows that the elevation of Mary Boleyn's father to the title of Viscount Rochford in 1525 had to do with his ability as a skilled ambassador for the English court and not because his daughter was sleeping with the King.    Ms. Weir also debunks the significance of the ship the Mary Boleyn in the English fleet.   The ship, along with the ship the Anne Boleyn, were purchased with those names from Mary's father, Thomas Boleyn.

The truly fascinating research that Alison Weir has found is in examining Mary Boleyn's life after the death of her husband in 1528.   She shows convincing evidence that Mary Boleyn was not close to her family.  Ms. Weir believes that, contrary to popular fiction, Mary's family was not pleased that she was a royal mistress.  Following William Carey's death she had to have the King intervene with her father to provide her with financial support.  Thomas Boleyn would treat his daughter-in-law, Jane Parker the same way after the execution of his son, George.  Mary Boleyn is rarely recorded at court after 1522.   She is mentioned as accompanying the English court to Calais in 1532 and as a member of Anne Boleyn's household after she is proclaimed queen at Easter in 1533.  She participated in Anne's coronation.

The final blow to her relationship with her family came when Mary Boleyn secretly wed William Stafford in 1534.   Ms. Weir notes that Stafford was a minor courtier, the younger son of a knight who served as a Gentleman Usher to the king.   In the summer of 1533 he became a spearman to the Calais garrison serving under the governor of Calais, Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle.   He is referred to several times in the Lisle letters as a trusted messenger to and from the court.   Mary Boleyn's marriage was discovered in the fall of 1534 when she became visibly pregnant.     One of her two extant letters is from this period in which she wrote to Thomas Cromwell begging his assistance.   It is this letter in which Mary states "I had rather beg my bread with him than to be the greatest queen christened."   Ms. Weir clearly believes that this statement proves how much the sisters were estranged.    While some historians believe that Mary Boleyn was reconciled with Queen Anne, assisting her after her miscarriage of 1536, Ms. Weir points out that there is no record of Mary Boleyn being at court after 1534.    She would live in obscurity surviving the executions of her sister, her brother, the deaths of her parents and the execution of her sister-in-law Jane Parker in the downfall of Queen Katherine Howard.    Mary Boleyn would die in 1543 and the place of her burial is unknown.

Ms. Weir's scholarship is very sound, if too detailed.   She does rightfully dismiss a lot of the romantic mythology surrounding Mary Boleyn, yet uses some of that same dubious material whether it is the mostly inaccurate statements of Rodolfo Pio, the papal nuncio or the poetry of Sir Philip Sydney when it serves the point she is trying to make.   It is not an easy read, but it is well worth adding to one's library if the reader is interested in expanding their knowledge of Tudor court history.

Alison's Weir's Mary Boleyn biography was published in 2011.  In Great Britain it is known as Mary Boleyn: The Great and Infamous Whore, published by Jonathan Cape.   In the United States it is known as Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings, published by Ballantine Books.

Book Review: Sister Queens by Julia Fox

The family of Katherine of Aragon is one that has not had nearly enough attention drawn to it in English language biography.   In the past few years there has been a welcome reexamination of Katherine of Aragon who did not have a major scholarly biography since the 1940's era one by Garrett Mattingly.   This was changed by the 2010 biography by Giles Tremlett which took advantage of reexamining the Spanish archival sources to provide a more detailed background for Katherine's life based on her Spanish heritage as the youngest daughter of the Catholic Kings, Ferdinand and Isabel.  

Now, comes Julia Fox's newest biography, a joint biography of Katherine of Aragon and her sister, Juana, Queen of Castile.    This is a welcome development as the life of Juana has been reduced to the stereotype of Juana La Loca, stricken by grief over the death of her husband, Philip of Burgundy, dragging his corpse from place to place as she could not bear parting with him.    Fortunately for readers, Ms. Fox provides context for Juana's life and mental behavior.    She sifts through the reams of propaganda that was used to justify Juana's life-long imprisonment to show that Juana was quite probably a victim of her father and her sons who sought to maintain control over Juana's rightful inheritance as the queen regnant of Castile.

In many ways, one wishes it was a solo biography of Juana as it is Ms. Fox's material on Juana that is the more fascinating read.   It is not that her scholarship on Katherine of Aragon isn't sound or engaging. Katherine's early history growing up amidst the reunification of Spain and the expulsion of the Moors and the Jews has been covered much more extensively by the aforementioned Mr. Tremlett's biography.    However, for a reader not who has not read extensively other biographies of Katherine of Aragon, Ms. Fox's book is a perfectly good place to begin.

One feels that the reason this book is not a solo biography of Juana of Castile is simply that there is not enough extant original documentation of Juana's life.   This may seem surprising as Juana was the wife of Philip of Burgundy, the heir of her mother, Isabel of Castile, and the mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.   Juana was also the longest surviving child of Ferdinand and Isabel dying in 1557.    Yet, due to her long forced incarceration following the death of her husband, there is scant reference in the historical record to Juana's later life.   Yet,  Ms. Fox uncovers material that shows that Juana La Loca was not nearly as mad as history as dictated.    It is a sad story that readers should be grateful that Ms. Fox has peeled back a few layers from and provided welcome insight.

For those unfamiliar with the family history of Katherine and Juana, their parents were Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castile.   Isabel, while fighting to claim the throne of Castile married Ferdinand without her half-brother's approval and gained a valuable dynastic ally.    They had five surviving children, Isabel, Juan, Juana, Maria and Katherine.     Each of those children would make strategic dynastic marriages and in some of those marriages we see reasons for some of the future choices that both Katherine and Juana would make.

As an example, for readers of Tudor history it is well known that Katherine of Aragon was first married to Arthur, Prince of Wales.   Following his death, Katherine was betrothed to his younger brother, Henry who decades later would decide that his decision to marry his brother's wife contradicted the laws of God.   For Katherine, she had seen several examples of this in her own family.   Her sister Isabel married Afonso Prince of Portugal in 1490.    He died in 1491 and Isabel was, according to the historical record, hysterically grief-stricken swearing she would enter a convent rather than re-marry.   Clearly, her profound grief can be seen in her sister Juana's later reaction to Philip of Burgundy's death.    Isabel married again, to Manual I of Portugal in 1497. This preserved the Spanish/Portuguese alliance.  Isabel died in childbirth in 1498.  Her son would die in 1500.

Manual I of Portugal then married his wife's sister, Maria, again preserving the Portuguese alliance.   So, Katherine of Aragon had the example of her two sisters remarrying close relations for dynastic reasons.   Meanwhile a double alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I was proposed in 1495.   The sole male heir of Ferdinand and Isabel, Juan would marry the Emperor's daughter, Margaret of Austria and his sister, Juana would marry the Emperor's son, Philip of Burgundy.    These marriages took place and Juana traveled to live in Burgundy.    Only months after his marriage, Juan died.  Margaret who was pregnant gave birth to a stillborn girl.   With the deaths of her brother and her elder sister and her nephew,  that left Juana as the heir to the throne of Castile which permitted women to ascend the throne.

Philip and Juana visited Castile in 1502 in order for Juana to receive fealty from the Cortes of Castile as the recognized Princess of Asturias, heiress of the Castilian throne.   Juana stayed in Spain giving birth to the last of her six surviving children, Ferdinand.  Ferdinand would be left in Castile to be raised there.  It is here that the campaign to control Juana and Castile began between her father, Ferdinand, her husband Philip and later her sons, Charles and Ferdinand.

Isabel of Castile died in 1504.    With the heiress Juana, living in Burgundy, her father Ferdinand acted as regent for his daughter's kingdom.     He was guided in this by Isabel's will which permitted Ferdinand to govern in Juana's absence or, if Juana was unwilling or incapable of ruling, in the name of her heir unit that heir reached the age of twenty.   Ferdinand had coins minted in the name of Ferdinand and Juana, King and Queen of Castile.  Philip of Burgundy had coins minted in the name of Philip and Juana, King and Queen of Castile.   Ferdinand heightened the tension by marrying Germaine de Foix, the niece of King Louis XII of France.

Philip and Juana set sail for Spain in January 1506.   Along the way, storms in the English channel blew their ships ashore in England.   This led to the last meeting of the two sisters as Philip and Juana were feted at the court of Henry VII.   Or, more accurately, Philip was feted.  Juana and Katherine only met for a few days before Philip sent Juana back to the coast to wait for them to set sail.   After three months they finally arrived in Spain.   Ferdinand and Philip signed a treaty stating that Juana was mentally unstable and incapable of ruling.   Ferdinand double-crossed Philip by denouncing that treaty.    Philip and Juana were declared King and Queen of Castile and their eldest son, Charles, heir apparent to the throne.  Yet, Philip continued to try to have the Castilian Cortes agree to Juana's imprisonment as being mentally unstable so that he could rule in her name.  They refused to do so without physically seeing Juana for themselves.

Then tragedy struck as Philip died in September 1506.    There is speculation to this day over the timing of the death, but it was most likely an infection that in the days before antibiotics could easily become life threatening.   With Philip dead and her father in Italy at the time, Juana could prove she was capable of ruling on her own. And thus, Juana discovered another enemy, Cisneros, the Archbishop of Toledo who tried to have a regency council established when it was clear that Philip was going to die.  Juana however, did nothing.   Her marriage to Philip had been tempestuous.  With his death, she showed signs of the same deep levels of grief that her sister, Isabel had done.  She would not sign documents.  She refused to  see anyone and this was the beginning of Juana's end as an independent woman.   What sealed her reputation to history was her decision to order that Philip was to be buried in the royal vault in Granada.  This would symbolize Philip's place in Spanish royal history.   Juana was eight months pregnant and had to stop accompanying the body in order to give birth to her last child, Catalina (Catherine).   And it is here that Ms. Fox finds the propaganda that Juana was so grief stricken that she couldn't bear to allow Philip to be buried and that she opened his coffin to kiss and embrace him.    As Ms. Fox states, are the allegations true or was Juana simply dictating where the father of her children should be buried?

Ms. Fox points out, Pedro Martir, the chronicler who traveled with Juana makes no mention of coffin-opening and Ms. Fox notes that Martir was not a partisan of the Queen.     Yet, because of her grief, and the history of hysterical grief noted in her sister, Isabel, it is not surprising that first Ferdinand and then her son, Charles would use this as a way to control Juana and Castile.    Juana would end up Queen of Castile in name only, confined in the Santa Clara convent in Tordesillas.  

Ferdinand died in 1516.   For several years no one told Juana of his death.   The regency of Castile passed to her eldest son, Charles who now, as Ferdinand's heir in Aragon,  reunited the thrones of Spain.    Yet, there was one other incident in Juana's life that is rarely mentioned.   In 1520 rebellion broke out in Castile over the foreign-born and raised Charles' rule.  The rebels gained access to Juana and asked her to give her written consent to the rebellion.   Juana refused to do so.    Juana would remain confined until her death, her conditions and her health deteriorating over time.    She would be buried in the royal vault in Granada alongside her husband, Philip.

Meanwhile, in England Juana's sister, Katherine had a similarly tempetuous life.    She would spend eight years as the widow of Arthur, Prince of Wales largely over her father and father-in-law's battles over the payment of her dowry.   Married to Henry VIII in 1509 she would see her father betray her husband's trust in the French invasion of 1513.  This would lead to the breaking of the marriage contract between Henry's sister Mary and Katherine's nephew Charles.    After numerous pregnancies, Katherine would produce one living child, a girl, the future Queen Mary I.   Katherine would fight a six year battle to save her marriage only to be discarded completely in 1531 and have her marriage annulled when Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic church and declared himself the head of the Church of England.   Moved to more and more obscure locations Katherine would die in January 1536 at Kimbolton Castle.   Buried in Peterborough Abbey, now a cathedral, her grave is regularly honored on the anniversary of her death.

Julia Fox provides a welcome look into the life of Juana, Queen of Castile.   In tandem with her other subject, Queen Katherine of Aragon she provides a well written biography of these two queenly sisters.

Sister Queens: Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile was published in Great Britain in 2011 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Equivocation, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival at Arena Stage

"Knock, knock!  Who's there, in th' other devil's name? Faith, here's an equivocator, that could swear in both scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God's sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven.  O, come in, equivocator." ---the Porter, MacBeth, Act II, Scene 3.

equivocation = the use of ambiguous statements to mislead or evade.

Remember, remember the 5th of November....this date in England is commemorated to this day commemorating the events of the Gunpowder Plot in which the hapless Guy (or Guido) Fawkes was discovered in a cellar underneath Parliament ready to blow the King, his court and Parliament to smithereens.    This event helped the English government to solidify the vilification the Catholic faith and through the events of the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 would eventually lead a century later to the 1701 Act of Succession barring Catholics from the throne.

What is not as well known is that William Shakespeare wrote references to the Gunpowder Plot into The Tragedy of MacBeth, his only play set in Scotland which contains elements meant to flatter King James VI and I.   The King wrote a book on the detection of witches, Daemonology, hence the prominent inclusion of the supernatural in the play.  The King also had a love of pageantry and the plays which Shakespeare wrote during James' reign including elaborate spectacle in the form of masques.    In MacBeth the King's lineage is paraded in the famous "double, double, toil and trouble" scene as the kingly descendants of Banquo, a long line ending in King James himself are conjured from the witches magic spell.

Historically we do not know what inspired Shakespeare to write his plays.  This  has led to fanciful fictional representation, most famously in the Academy Award winning film, Shakespeare in Love.   Playwright Bill Cain has taken the events of the Gunpowder Plot and fashioned from its conspiracy and bloody endings the creation of MacBeth.     The result is a highly literate evening of theater that presumes that the audience is intelligent to follow its very intricate twists and turns.    While, as in most fictional adaptations of history, parts of the history is ignored or condensed for dramatic purposes, Equivocation is, for the most part an engaging evening of theater.   Where the play is faulty is in its length, clocking in at just over three hours in length.    Some judicious editing would tighten the work and make fewer audiences members check their watches as the evening drags to its conclusion.

The play imagines that William Shakespeare, here called Shag, is commissioned by Robert Cecil, the hunchbacked Secretary of State who smoothed the transition to the throne between the childless Elizabeth I and the Scottish King James, to write a true history of the Gunpowder Plot.    Instead of relying on historical events and chronicles as source material, Shag will write a true history of this threat to England using as his text an account written by the King himself.   Shag must also deal with the members of his acting troupe who are alternately thrilled by the challenges of the play-in-progress and concerned that if the ending result displeases the government officials the company of actors may find themselves accused of treason.   Lastly, Shag is haunted by the loss in his own life and cannot deal with his daughter, Judith who toils as a laundress for the actors and tries to forge a relationship with her emotionally distant father.

It is a lot of material to cover in three hours and that is part of the problem with this play.   While the acting is uniformly superb, elements of the story are alternately too detailed to the point of audience boredom or, in the case of the Judith subplot, not detailed enough.    As Judith, Christine Albright is the silent support for the entire company.   Judith is given a few soliloquies in which she comments on the action, giving insight to her father's plight.   Ms. Albright is particularly poignant in a graveyard scene, yet Judith's entire story could be excised from the play without damaging the rest of the plot.

The rest of the ensemble portrays multiple roles.  Richard Elmore, Jonathan Haugen, Gregory Linington and John Tufts are identified in the program solely by their acting company names.   Yet, each man also portrays several meaty roles whether it is the Catholic conspirators, including Mr. Elmore's Father Henry Garnet, the equivocator of history and the piece, or John Tufts gleeful and smarmy King James VI and I.   Jonathan Haugen is particularly memorable as Robert Cecil, the orchestrator of the crown, who is trying to shape the official history of the Gunpowder Plot.

Anthony Heald as Shag is the glue that holds this disparate work together.   He is at once the center of the piece and its true orchestrator.  Mr. Heald's performance cautious and bold, daring and timid.   He evokes Shag's desires to please his patrons, discover the truths of the conspiracy and the plot and somehow deal with the emotional hole in his own life represented by loss and his daughter.

Christopher Acebo's wooden set permits the easy evocation of the many locations of the play.   It is complimented by Christopher Akerlind's lighting design.  The costumes of Deborah H. Dryden are perfect, whether the costumes and utilitarian clothes of the acting company or the glittering ensembles worn by King James.  Director Bill Rauch has for the most part, mined this work for positive and engaging effect.   One wishes he would have reigned in some of the lengthy pauses that are indulged in by some of the actors.

Equivocation presented at Arena Stage by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival will be presented in the Kreeger Theatre through January 1, 2012.   For tickets and other performance information please visit