Geffen Playhouse, 2009
Bill Cain’s play is a political thriller in which William Shakespeare is commissioned to write a play about the Gunpowder Plot to assassinate King James I and blow up Parliament. (Remember the fifth of November?) The problem: the king wants him to write the official version of the plot, which has been somewhat…embellished. Shakespeare has to deal with political pressure from the Crown, conflicts among his actors, estrangement from his daughter Judith…and the question of truth: Can he find it? If so, can he afford to write it?
It’s a compelling story – terrorism and torture are topical, and political intrigue is always in fashion – and manages to give you enough information on the background that if you don’t know much about the Gunpowder Plot, or even about Shakespeare, you can still follow what’s going on.
Some familiarity with Shakespeare helps, though. The Globe is rehearsing King Lear at the beginning, and it quickly becomes clear that The True History of the Gunpowder Plot will eventually become Macbeth. References to Shakespeare’s legacy are scattered throughout the play. There’s also a great comedic moment at one point that is only funny if you know about the Porter scene in MacBeth, but it doesn’t interrupt the flow if you don’t know it.
(Some recognizable faces in this production: Harry Groener, the Mayor of Sunnydale from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Connor Trinneer, Trip from Star Trek: Enterprise. Coincidentally, Groener was also in the last play I saw, Putting it Together at South Coast Repertory)