“The Book of Will” – The Phoenix Theatre Company

Theater Review – September 3, 2022


The Phoenix Theatre Company, Hormel Theatre
Phoenix AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

William Shakespeare’s plays are well known from the myriad of traditional productions presented to the host of vibrant new interpretations.  But the Bard’s plays premiered before the printing of such works was routine and before copyright laws protected the plays from illegal lifting by competing authors.  Therefore, there was a strong possibility that Shakespeare’s masterpieces could have been lost.

Lauren Gunderson’s cleverly witty “The Book of Will” provides a fascinating scenario for how the plays were retained and a solid Phoenix Theatre Company staging keeps audiences entertained with comic portrayals of Shakespeare’s acting colleagues who decided to preserve the works after the playwright’s death.  Gunderson has added enough contemporary wit to keep things light but thought-provoking.

The comedy, set in the Old Globe Theatre, looks in on the King’s Players and their productions of the Bard’s works that featured a performing ensemble that once included Shakespeare.  The actors play different roles nightly in the various comedies, histories, and tragedies.  Snippets of the Bard’s most famous plays are presented along with the backstage machinations that impact the performances.

When Shakespeare passes, the Players decide to preserve the plays but there aren’t any printed copies.  They gather actors’ sides and stage management accounts of Shakespeare’s creations.  A marginal printer is found as are the financial contributions necessary to duplicate the scripts.

Gunderson makes the Herculean effort charmingly fun while keeping the history bright and light.  Relationships between the various characters are attention-grabbing as are some of the preservationists’ hesitancies to approach the project while others have carefree abandon.  Many funny discrepancies are discovered as the scripts are preserved.

The play could fall apart if not presented with a nimble and exuberant farcical style imposed on these clever actors by director Melissa Rain Anderson.  Lanky Grant Goodman’s Henry Condell is the verbose actor who doesn’t concern himself with details as he spearheads the project with fervor.  His feisty love of Shakespeare’s “Pericles” provides hysterical comic moments.  Michael Kary’s cautious but raucous John Heminges is the other eager team member who gathers the forces of other company members, the irritable printer, and backstage personnel plus wives and lovers to bring off the project.  Bold Scott Davidson plays two diverse roles, Richard Burbage and William Jaggard, with comic elan.  Tony Blooser is the competitive playwright Ben Johnson who struggles to comprehend the fuss about Shakespeare’s works. Dean Mitchell Kelldorf and Seth Tucker play printing technicians while Regina Pugh essays Shakespeare’s critical wife. Jodie Weiss is Cordell’s lusty partner, and Bonnie Beus Romney is Heminges’ spirited daughter.  Most of the performers play other small roles with distinction and always craft sharp differences from their main characters.

“The Book of Will” provides a rollicking time as you are reminded of the Bard’s great plays and how challenging it was to save them. “The Book of Will” runs through September 18.  To order tickets, call The Phoenix Theatre Company box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: A