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Preserving the Great Works

A Noise Within presents a pristine Book of Will
By EDDIE RIVERA, Editor, Weekendr Magazine
Published on May 14, 2023

[Image courtesy A Noise Within]

For any number of millennials, pre and post, it may be hard to picture a time when copies of any creative work weren’t essentially available in unlimited quantities, with a click of a mouse and maybe a credit card.

And now imagine a world in which only what was actually written down, and only that actual document, was all that was available. No copies, no digital files. 

And then imagine that the author of all those documents, as well as the documents used to create those documents, has been dead seven years. 

Whatever is left is what is left. There is nothing more. 

Therein lies the real-life dilemma and drama that author Lauren Gunderson set to the stage in her 2017 work, The Book of Will, and now artfully produced by A Noise Within theater, as the final work in their “Daring to Love” season.

Directed by Geoff Elliot and Julia Rodriquez-Elliot, the production is sharp, smart reading of Gunderson’s work with artful staging and riveting acting and storytelling. 

“This is the perfect play for A Noise Within because it’s about a company just like ours,” said Elliott, pre-performance. “It’s hard to find a play that’s as brilliant, well-written and funny as this one, and it’s all about a group of resident artists, an artistic community who have been working together for years, and how well they know each other, and the memories they share.” 

“It really shows how all-encompassing a life in the theater really is,” adds Rodriguez-Elliott. “It’s like religion. There’s a moment in the play where one of the characters is experiencing deep loss. And the place that he goes to find comfort is the theater.”

We open in a tavern in 1623, next door to the Globe Theater in London, where three real-life and well-known actors— Richard Burbage, played by Frederick Stewart, Henry Condell, played by Jeremy Rabb, and John Heminges, played by co-director Geoff Elliot, all members of the King’s Men acting troupe—are grousing over a just-seen performance by a lesser, also-ran theater company, using inaccurate scripts of Shakespeare’s works.

Following Burbage’s sudden death, Condell and Heminges decide to take it upon themselves to assemble all of Shakespeare’s known works, whatever can be cobbled together, and publish them as a “folio,” Shakespeare’s first official collection.

The production is cleverly staged and produced, owing largely to the directors’  deft hands, and the work of scenic designer Frederica Nascimento, as well as lighting designer Ken Booth.  

Elliot as John Heminges, is a looming presence as the erstwhile, though begrudging, leader of the project. Often cast as a dashing lead, Elliot fills the role perfectly, through pathos and joy, as the quest to gather materials and move through the cumbersome printing process gathers steam and then doesn’t, and then does. 

Alex Morris, as Shakespeare’s literary rival, Ben Johnson, is captivating and impressive, as he portrays Johnson as cantankerous and vain, yet clearly in awe of Shakespeare’s powers. 

Other standouts include Kasey Mahaffy as Ralph Crane, the eager editor of the new folio, clearly the expert, but delighted just to remain near to the Shakespeare legend.

Additional touches are cleverly staged, such as parallel narratives when Heminges and Condell set out to cajole two patrons—one, Shakespeare’s mistress, and the other his rival, Johnson. Alternating spotlights open and close on the pair of stories, staged alongside each other,  as each negotiation takes place.

Actually, unique and clever staging is a large part of the Noise Within oeuvre, as actors often move set pieces themselves, as part of the actual production, while never losing a beat. It’s one of many unique aspects to all of their works.

The Book of Will is yet another in a long line of first-rate productions from one of Pasadena’s finest performing companies.

The Book of Will runs through June 7. A Noise Within is at 3352 East Foothill Blvd. Pasadena, CA.

(626) 356-3100.

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