The Indiana Shakespeare Festival’s first summer is winding to a close with a production of William Gibson’s tale of Will Shakespeare’s life before London, "A Cry of Players." Company manager Phil Casper directs it. In Thursday night’s performance, Casper-in the old tradition of the player managers-took on one of the roles.
As William Gibson imagines it, Will Shakespeare– played by Doug Burbank–is a sullenly rebellious country boy. Will is twenty-one. He’s been married to Anne, Meghan Ruesch, for four years and has three children. Ruesch’s Anne is a passionate woman alternately loving and furious, wifely, motherly and womanly. Will’s rebellions are of a distinctly country variety. He’s out poaching with companions played by Cody Hill and David Kopp. He’s womanizing with the local pub owner’s daughter played by Nicole Lalonde. And he’s drinking with all and sundry. It’s only the town schoolmaster, played by Hal Kibbey, who, recognizes Will’s intelligence and vainly tries to help with recommendation for a teaching position.
In the midst of this a troupe of traveling players led by Tyler Hill as the comedian Will Kemp arrive. Will seems fascinated by their work, but it seems to be more their freedom to move about than anything special about the theatre that attracts him.
As the play develops Will’s rebellions finally take on a literary form with some clever scurrilous verse. It attracts the attention of the local civic leader, Sir Thomas played with charming rueful gravitas by Lee Horn. Sir Thomas is a mysteriously prescient figure as he first condemns Will to the stocks, then to whipping and finally to blessed exile.
"A Cry of Players" is a lusty play. There’s plenty of action, some tension and even a good old-fashioned catfight. In this production it’s a pretty dark story. Will gripes a lot in the "I’ve got to be me" mode. If I didn’t know the playwright that he really becomes, I’d be baffled about why I should care. I wished that William Gibson had shown Will reading, or writing or something that I could take as evidence that the grubby, surly ‘country Will’ of the play would become the sophisticated genius of the city,’ London William.’
The Indiana Shakespeare Festival’s production of "A Cry of Players" has its final performances tonight and Saturday at eight and Sunday at two in the Rose Firebay of the John Waldron Arts Center.