REVIEW: ‘Shakespeare in Love’ provides a loving introduction to new T2 space

Courtesy photo

The 2014 theatrical play version of “Shakespeare in Love” is an homage to the magic and mystery of theater. You might say it’s a Bard-inspired love letter to the artform itself.

TheatreSquared’s new home, a $31 million purpose-built space that opened earlier this month, might be considered a love letter to theater as well. The new facility at the corner of West Avenue and Spring Street in Fayetteville is equipped with two fully functional theaters and public spaces wired and ready for less-formal performances.

It makes sense, then, that T2 would use “Shakespeare in Love” to introduce the theater-going public to the new space. The grand opening party took place Friday (Aug. 16) and continued well after the curtain call.

What: TheatreSquared’s “Shakespeare in Love”
When: Every Tuesday through Sunday until Sept. 15
Where: TheatreSquared’s new home at 447 W. Spring St., Fayetteville
Cost:  $17-$49; a limited number of $10 tickets are available for those under 30 years old
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or

TheatreSquared has described “Shakespeare in Love” as the most ambitious production it has ever attempted, and not just because the theater company now has a larger stage in a larger building than its former home at Nadine Baum Studios. “Shakespeare in Love,” which was developed from the award-winning 1998 movie, debuted in London’s West End before making it to the states. Indeed, the play being presented in Fayetteville feels “big” – with a large, wooden, two-story stage construction, elaborate costumes of notable size and lengthy chunks of dialogue, often lifted from Shakespeare’s texts.

The story incorporates these Shakespearean lines because it posits itself as the origin story for “Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter” – soon to become the classic work “Romeo and Juliet.” We watch as Will Shakespeare (played by Matthew Goodrich) falls hopelessly in love with Viola de Lesseps (played by Stephanie Bignault), the daughter of an influential and wealthy man. But she’s been selected – quite against her will – for marriage to Lord Wessex (played by Steven Marzolf). Will and Viola’s forbidden courtship develops as the struggling playwright sneaks up to his beloved’s window and poetically professes his admiration. You can see where this will take us, of course – Will’s interactions with Viola creep into his current work, and his prose to her becomes major plot elements for the in-progress play, now dubbed “Romeo and Juliet.”

In “Shakespeare in Love,” the bard has promised a comedy that develops into the tragedy we know today. The fanciful production onstage at T2 does not make the same dramatic shift into the darkness, however. It is instead designed to show us the humorous unpredictability of live theater performances, a “Noises Off” of sorts but with Shakespearean dialogue. Hijinks doth abound. The still-developing play is nearly thwarted when the young male actor playing Juliet – only men were allowed to perform on stages at the time – has his voice drop overnight, rendering him unable to pass as a female character. There’s also some drama between rival theater companies. Shakespeare has promised scripts to both, and the rival clans eventually turn to swordplay to settle the differences. At least I think this is what happened; the plot outside of boy-meets-girl-but-can’t-have-her part is convoluted and inconsequential. Perhaps someone can make sense of it. I couldn’t, at least not as presented.

What we’re provided with, then, is an excuse for characters to say silly things in outrageous costumes and run around onstage. And in this context, the show is an excuse to highlight what the new TheatreSquared building might allow the company to do in the future – large sets, big casts and appealing sight lines and sound quality.

TheatreSquared established its brand as the home for intimate, emotional theater productions, often courtesy of shows making their debut in Arkansas. “Shakespeare in Love,” by these definitions, is a bit of a departure for the company. I hope to see the company continue in some of those traditions, and shows in the smaller black box theater (this first show was in the larger of the two) may be a source for that kind of immersive experience. Or perhaps shows with smaller casts might make a splash in the larger theater. We’ll get to experience that theater soon – T2 just last week announced a four-show workshop experience of a play called “10,000 Balconies” that is loosely based on “Romeo and Juliet” but is based in war-torn Damascus, Syria.

The new TheatreSquared looks brilliant, and we’ll talk about it for some time to come. I don’t know that we’ll talk about the time we first saw “Shakespeare in Love,” however. It’s a fine show that illustrates the mystery and magic of theater. I am excited to see the magic yet to come in this new home for theatrical arts.

T2 announces limited workshop session of new show based on “Romeo and Juliet”

The first show in the Spring Theatre, the more intimate of the two theaters at the new TheatreSquared, will likewise find inspiration from Shakespeare.

TheatreSquared will host a series of five workshop performances of “10,000 Balconies” beginning on Aug. 30. The play finds loose inspiration from “Romeo and Juliet” but places this love story in modern day Syria. The play has been developed by T2 artist-in-residence Kholoud Sawaf and will feature live music courtesy of Hadi Eldebek, who performed as part of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road project ensemble, and other members of the cast.

The Aug. 30 and Aug. 31 performances of “10,000 Balconies” will also offer a post-show conversation led by writer, performer and cultural organizer Andrea Assaf.

What: “10,000 Balconies”
When: 8 p.m. Aug. 30; 2:30 and 8 p.m. Aug. 31; 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sept. 1
Where: TheatreSquared
Cost: $22; a limited number of $10 are available for those under 30 years old; recipients of SNAP benefits are eligible for a $5 ticket
Tickets: 479-777-7477 or