Resonance Ensemble, Clurman Theatre, New York City, 2011
It is 1596, London, and Will Shakespeare is having a creative crisis. Broke and bedeviled by doubt, he is unable to write the “Henry IV” play commissioned by his company’s patron. Most oppressing, Will is haunted by the recent death of his young son, Hamnet. His fortunes turn when he meets Grace, a beautiful African slave owned by a retired sea captain. Will and Grace fall in love. From there, Will’s goal to free her becomes as complicated and dramatic as one of his own plays.
What if William Shakespeare had never written Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear and all his other later masterpieces? In 1596 Shakespeare had a creative crisis. Broke and bedeviled by self-doubt, he was unable to write the “Henry IV” play commissioned by the Lord Chamberlain. The question of whether “to be or not to be” hung by a thread – until Shakespeare met one of London’s first African slaves – who changed his life.
NY Review: ‘Shakespeare’s Slave’
Resonance Ensemble at Theatre Row’s Clurman Theatre
Reviewed by Suzy Evans
June 01, 2011
“Shakespeare’s Slave” chronicles the Bard’s excruciating process of creating “Henry IV.” Driven to drinking and gambling, Will finds himself flat broke. He finally discovers his muse in an African slave, one of the first to come to London, in 1596. The slave, who Fechter bases on the “dark lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets, serves a rather unruly master named Sir John Hunksley, who offers Will the opportunity to buy into the burgeoning slave trade to earn the money he so desperately needs. The high-caliber cast, led by an absolutely superb David L. Townsend as Shakespeare, delivers the material effectively, and Fechter’s witty and insightful writing—”Being someone’s muse is too close to being someone’s slave”—carries the bulk of the show.
The characters in Will’s life inspire the characters in “Henry IV,” as is often the case for writers. Scenes from each play parallel each other, most notably the one in which Falstaff exaggerates how he was robbed. Hunksley tells a similar tale when he relays a made-up account in a last-minute twist.
“Shakespeare’s Slave” is not a perfect play, nevertheless, it is wildly entertaining.
SHOW SHOWDOWN: Shakespeare’s Slave
Roddney sexton | May 27, 2011
If you are going to create a play about Shakespeare, it better be about the writing. The Resonance Ensemble’s production of Shakespeare’s Slave is all about the writing; and in this production, the costumes, designed with genius and ingenuity by Mark Richard Caswell. This is not to say the actors, especially David L. Townsend as the Bard himself, and director, Eric Parness, aren’t providing powerful support. They navigate some jolts in the script, some limitations of the space, and some inherent challenges in a contemporary telling of a period tale with nimble focus.
Along with Mr. Townsend, actors Chris Ceraso and Romy Nordlinger are standouts. Shaun Bennet Wilson, in a central role, has struggles that are not entirely of her creation. She is playing a theatrical device that has been written for function more than character, which brings me back to the writing.
For good and bad, this new script by Steven Fechter, is the star of the show. The best part of the script is merely that it exists, that the company commissioned it, and that this production could lead to revisions that can only make future productions stronger. Seeing a play of this quality and this potential in its infancy is a gift. It isn’t perfect, but to discover it is reason enough to see it. And to discover the Resonance Ensemble and their commitment to producing a classical play and a modern play with a common theme in rep was a treat for me. (More at ShowShowDown)