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Where there’s a will, there’s a way

‘Shakespeare In Love’ shines with diverse cast

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Where there’s a will, there’s a way
Omar Robinson as actor Richard Burbage (right) takes his sword to rival actor Ned Alleyn (Jesse Hinson). (Photo: Nile Scott Shots/Nile Hawver)

Through Feb. 10, Speakeasy Stage Company will perform “Shakespeare In Love” at the Boston Center for the Arts. The 2014 stage adaptation of the award-winning film by the same title follows a young Shakespeare as he writes “Romeo and Juliet,” and falls for the woman who inspired it. Though fictional, the story provides a glimpse at a fallible Shakespeare, before he achieved literary glory. This is the socially acceptable Bard fan fiction we’ve all been waiting for.

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Similar to the film, “Shakespeare In Love” follows a romantic comedy format, but while the movie emphasized the romance, the stage version leans heavily on comedy and fellowship. There are no incidental roles; the ensemble plays an enormous part in the show and is present on stage for most of it.

More important than Shakespeare falling for Viola, who inspires his Juliet, is the theater troupe rehearsing and staging “Romeo and Juliet,” or trying to, as it’s being written. Young Shakespeare, played expertly by George Olesky, is a procrastinator, a flirt and often walks questionable moral ground. It’s rewarding to see a reflection of Shakespeare without the halo of canon fame.

The cast highlights many talented African American actors, including Jade Guerra as Mistress Quickly and Molly, Omar Robinson as Richard Burbage, Carolyn Saxon as the Nurse and Damon Singletary as Tilney and Sir Robert De Lesseps. Saxon says, “When I looked at the cast and saw there were four actors of color in the show I was really excited. It’s colorblind casting, and an opportunity to show how versatile we are.”

Robinson, who plays the hotheaded historical figure Richard Burbidge, says he borrowed some of his character’s temper from his role as Hamlet in the Actors’ Shakespeare Project production last year. He also served as the show’s fight captain, preserving safety and authenticity in the fight choreography. Of the show’s relevance, he says, “There’s a lot of camaraderie in the show, in a time when unity is very important. The play has a desire for partnership whether it be romantic, artistic or otherwise.”

Singletary says it was rewarding to be a part of a show where race wasn’t a component in the casting process. “Having stories specific to minority groups is important. But I also think it’s just important to have African Americans on stage, in any role,” he says. Singletary encourages audiences to see the performance even if they’re not classical theater fans. He says, “Don’t let the Shakespeare part scare you. It’s a lot of fun.”