Now is the winter of our discontent ... in the deep bosom of the snow buried.
OK, so that’s not quite the way Shakespeare wrote Gloucester’s soliloquy in “Richard III,” but it’s in the spirit of a theatrical tweak toward the Bard of Avon, calling out from the Theatre Cedar Rapids stage Friday night (3/8) to March 24.
“Shakespeare in Love” is “going to melt the snow,” director Angie Toomsen said. “It might not scrape it off your car, but it will melt it off your heart.”
It’s the first of the theater’s annual Linge Series, pairing two shows with parallel themes. The run dates overlap, with “Shakespeare” on the main stage and “Ada and the Memory Engine” in the downstairs Grandon Studio from March 15 to 31. Both feature women breaking through male-dominated barriers.
“Shakespeare in Love” is leaping from screen to stage with much of the dialogue preserved from the 1998 Academy Award-winning movie that earned Oscars for Gwyneth Paltrow in the leading role of Viola, Dame Judi Dench in the supporting role of Queen Elizabeth I, costume design, musical score, art direction, original screenplay for Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman, and best picture — plus nominations in six more categories.
The stage adaptation is true to Stoppard’s writing, jokes and most memorable moments, Toomsen said, but it also presents a very real challenge for the production team and cast of 22 actors — including pooch Pearl Hallman, a 5-year-old mix making her theatrical debut, complete with Elizabethan collar and her own backstage digs.
“The challenge — but also opportunity — is that when you’re taking a movie and trying to put it on the stage, a movie has jump cuts and scenes happen quickly, and there’s not as much to say as there is in a play,” Toomsen noted. “And so this play has these very short scenes. That cues us as a team that we have to be able to make those kind of hairpin turns and those really quick jumps like the movie, otherwise the piece is just going to drag.”
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It also sets up another whole set of challenges, not just in the realm of quick costume changes, but in the case of Viola, quick gender changes for actress Lauren Galliart.
The daughter of a wealthy merchant, Viola has grown enamored of Shakespeare’s writing and wants so desperately to be in one of his plays. In 1593 London, however, it’s illegal for women to set foot onstage, so men play women’s roles.
Determined to defy the system, Viola dons a mustache (backed with toupee tape), men’s clothing, changes her center of gravity and lowers her voice a tad so she can audition for Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter.” Through this dual identity ploy, she shakes the Bard out of his stumbling case of writer’s block, and sets the stage for a romantic romp through comedy and drama.
To prepare Galliart to make the leap, Toomsen worked with her about keeping in the persona of the moment, whether that be Viola or would-be actor Thomas Kent, and how that “sits in her body.” She also gets a big assist from her costumes.
In a play full of lavish costumes, they become another character in the show and help the actors become their characters, Toomsen said.
“The clothing of the day helps tremendously,” she said, “and does a lot of the work for you, just in terms of helping you with posture and helping you understand how movement was restricted.”
Adding to the comedy is the fact that Viola “makes mistakes all the time and she forgets herself for a moment and then hastily corrects and becomes Thomas Kent again,” Toomsen said.
Director and company also have talked at length about courtly mannerisms. Disney, which owns the play, sent a packet of dramaturgical research discussing the art and technique of theatrical presentation, Toomsen said. The show is full of dances, combat scenes, “big, chaotic sword fighting,” fist fighting and other movement directly affected by the Elizabethan costuming.
“I’m looking to the clothing kind of helping get us to the finish line,” Toomsen said, since boning in the dresses and other styles and constraints “just makes you feel completely different.”
“It’s always a learning experience,” TCR costume designer Joni Sackett said. “The guys are prancing around — especially if they get a cape — and they are loving it. I was a little surprised, actually, or maybe not. It’s such a super cast — a great, smart cast, and thank goodness, because they got to rehearse for about a nanosecond because of the weather, but you would never know it.”
Costuming a show this lavish and large is no easy task, especially when the crew consists of Sackett, her part-time assistant and volunteers.
“I thought for a hot second that I would build it myself,” she said. But with excellent resources close at hand, she has been able to find pieces already made, and has been able to focus on adapting them to the actors, cutting down on the number of pieces to create from scratch.
“Riverside Theatre has populated our racks really beautifully,” Sackett said, giving “a huge shout out” to artistic director Adam Knight and the Iowa City troupe that for many years has staged Shakespearean fare during the summer. Knight opened the door to what Sackett called “a treasure trove” of costumes in her chosen color palette.
She sourced other pieces from Chicago Shakespeare Theater and costume designer Susan E. Mickey. “They are just stunning,” Sackett said, “and the fabric choices are inspired.”
For Queen Elizabeth’s gown, Sackett turned to designer Kathryn Huang at Odd Blonde Duck Sewing Studio in Cedar Rapids, who has created specialty pieces and more for several troupes in the Corridor, as well as Theatre Cedar Rapids.
“I knew Kathy could do an incredible job,” said Sackett, who approached her a year ago about the project.
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“It’s nice to have time,” Huang said, noting that she spent the summer researching the period and all the pieces that would go into the queen’s dress, including the farthingale hoop skirt, petticoat to cover the hoops, bum roll worn at the waist to further enhance the skirt’s silhouette, as well as the underskirt, overskirt, bodice with “monster sleeves,” the partlet worn over the neck and shoulders, and collars.
Huang found elaborate trims while on vacation in London last September, to enhance the cream and gold palette for the dress. She used six yards of gold fabric for the outer layers, wishing she would have purchased 10, and the most snaps she “has ever put on a garment,” to facilitate quick changes.
“I needed to make sure Marcia (Hughes) looked incredible,” Huang said.
“Her influence is very large in the play even though she only has like two or three scenes,” Toomsen said of the queen, “so that beautiful dress that’s being built will actually get some good stage time.
“Marcia Hughes is a kind of a queen in our little community anyway, so it’s fitting she gets to wear the dress,” Toomsen added. “And every time she comes onstage everyone bows to her — so you’re welcome Marcia.”
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WHAT: “Shakespeare in Love”
WHERE: Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third St. SE
WHEN: Friday (3/8) to March 24; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday; ASL interpreted performance March 23
TICKETS: $22 to $37, TCR Box Office, (319) 366-8591 or Theatrecr.org/event/shakespeare-in-love/2019-03-08/