By Iride Aparicio

Photos by: Joyce Goldschmid

Shakespeare (Jones) presents his manuscript to Alleyn (Chiang)

PALO ALTO, CA –  The Peninsula Premiere of LEE HALL’s stage play with music by PADDY CUNNEEN, an adaptation of  TOM STOPPARD and MARC NORMAN 1998 Oscar-winning film “SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE” may be considered one of the best productions of PALO ALTO PLAYERS. 

Directed by Theatre Bay Area Award-winning Director LEE ANN PAYNE, (Palo Alto Players’The Laramie Project) and played by a  cast of 21 local Bay Area Actors, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE gives the audience a multi-sensory experience of the Elizabethan Theatre:  visual in its sets and costumes; Soothing in its music; Lively, in its dances, and Captivating  in its plot of intrigue, mistaken identity, and a moving love story

And while young Shakespeare and Viola’s love story may, or may not have been the  inspiration for Shakespeare's Tragedy ROMEO and JULIET, Shakespeare’s own story, as portrayed in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, is fresh, passionate, painful and worth telling.

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, is a play with music, sword fighting and no dogs, (The Queen liked dogs, so dogs were included in most plays) set in London in the year l593. With the exception of  Viola de Lessepes, and her father, who belong to the English nobility, most of the play’s characters are people related to the theatre: impresarios, playwrights and actors rehearsing their dialogues on the stage.

Among those actors is young WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (DREW BENJAMIN JONES) who is also a new playwright who has been given a deadline (by a producer) to complete a comedy by the name “Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter,

Drew Benjamin Jones as William Shakespeare

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, the play, opens in Shakespeare’s house, with young Shakespeare (JONES) trying in vain to write a play, in Blank Verse, on parchment sheets, using a quill pen, which he sharpens often, and dips in a bottle of black ink. Getting frustrated after reading the words he had written, he crumples the sheets of parchment in his hand, turns them  into balls, and tosses them on the floor. After multiple failures, he is convinced  that he had lost his  “Muse” (a poet’s source of inspiration) and cannot  create plays anymore.

But things change, during a play rehearsal at The Rose Theatre, when Shakespeare hears a young actor uttering his lines in a melodious-pitched voice and with a lot of feeling. He is so impressed about the actor, that he wants to meet him. What he does not know, at the time, is that “the actor” is really an actress: Viola de Lessegs, a noble woman (APRIL CULVER) who loves acting, but who is forced to impersonate a man and dress as one, because  Queen Elizabeth Tudor, the  25 year old daughter of Henry VIII, better known in English History as Elizabeth I, had forbade women to act, which is the reason why during the 1590’s in all the English plays, the female’s parts were played by men, dressed as women, who read their lines talking in feigned high pitched voices to “imitate”the range of a woman's voice.

When "the boy actor" runs away from the theatre,  young Shakespeare decides to follow him, which brings him to Viola’s mansion, but when he gets inside the house, Shakespeare no longer finds the “boy”  because Viola had already changed to women’s clothes. So, instead of "the boy,"  young Shakespeare meets Viola (dressed as a woman) and when they meet, and talk and later dance at a reception, they fall madly in love with each other.


The plot continues with some scenes  in which Shakespeare and Viola use  dialogue that we are familiar with because some verses are verses from the dialogue between ROMEO and JULIET. Sadly, as young Shakespeare leaves Viola’s chamber, he learns that Viola is engaged to another man and is going to get married.

Was this story true? Did the real Shakespeare expressed in the dialogue of his tragedy ROMEO AND and JULIET the passion that he and Viola experienced as lovers? Did the most famous playwright of Blank Verse, CHRISTOPHER MARLOW, (BRAD SATTERWHITE), Shakespeare’s friend, give him the end of a comedy, that became a Tragedy? We will never know.

L-R April Culver as Viola and Melinda Marks as her Nurse

What we know is that SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE as presented by Palo Alto Players, is delightful. A well acted, well sang, and well vocalized play. We could add, that the scenic design of SCOTT LUDWIG is magic, and that it could be changed in a second. That the costumes of PATRICIA TAYLER are beautiful and that This time the Creative and the Production Teams of Palo Alto Players created in SHAKESPEARE in LOVE one of their best productions.

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE will play at the Lucie Stern Theater , l305 Middlefield Road in Palo alto until February 3rd. For information or to order tickets call (650) 329 0891 or go online to