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"The English Channel" at Abingdon Theatre Company

- Backstage with the Playwrights

The English Channel

Abingdon Theatre Company
Artistic Directors: Jan Buttram
Dorothy Strelsin Theatre

The English Channel
By Robert Brustein
Directed by Daniela Varon

At the
Abingdon Theatre Company
312 West 36th Street

Sean Dugan as Christopher Marlowe
Stafford Clark-Price as William Shakespeare
Brian Robert Burns as Henry Wriothesley
Lori Gardner as Emilia Lanier

Set and Lighting Design: Mike Billings
Costume Designer: Laura Crow
Composer/Sound Design: Scott Killian
Production Manager: Ian Grunes
Production Stage Manager: Rebecca L. Hurlbert
Fight Choreographer: Stafford-Clarke Price
Casting Director: William Schill
Associate Artistic Director: Kim T. Sharp
Press: Shirley Herz Assoc.

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
September 19, 2008

Robert Brustein, of theatrical esteem (Founding Director, Yale Repertory Theatre and the American Repertory Theatre, retired Harvard Professor), has created a new play, his sixth, The English Channel, which was first produced in Massachusetts, in Boston and Martha’s Vineyard. Brustein imagines the cultural, personal, and literary influences on William Shakespeare, as Shakespeare, the youth, converses and cavorts with Christopher Marlowe (Kit), Henry Wriothesley (Hal), Third Earl of Southampton, and Emilia Lanier, in the Mermaid Tavern, 1593, year of the plague. Stafford Clark-Price, as Will (Shakespeare), jots down, with quill and ink, sayings, verses, wit, and wisdom, for his sonnets and drama, as he hears these very words, from the mouths of his friends. Mr. Brustein hypothesizes that Shakespeare, of humble origins, was thirsty for ideas, in his obsessive effort to create his own theatre. Will takes bags of money from Hal, early on, as compensation for verses that include Hal in the elegant text.

Kit introduces the play with a graphically injured face, and it is later on, in this one-act play, that we learn of the 1593 political underground. There are hidden plots against the crown, innate competition and vulnerability of the characters, and competitive sexual desire, that bonds and alienates each of the four characters in conflicted and impulsive behavior. Trust is established and trust is destroyed, as a secret document is hidden and found, and all the while the language of this play is poetic and classically imbued. The action includes violence, wit, and charisma, with Will running to his desk to copy words, phrases, ideas, many of which hint at future works, e.g., “Romeo and Juliet”, “Hamlet”. The production is fast-paced and provocative, and the actors handle the ornamented banter with fluidity and ease. Stafford Clark-Price (Will) gives a riveting performance, as his mood and manner shift, between scenes. When he meets Emilia Lanier (Lori Gardner), sparks fly. In tonight’s performance, Rosal Colón was replaced with Lori Gardner, who read her lines from a script-book, but we soon stop noticing, as she brings passion and coquettish charm to the Tavern.

Brian Robert Burns (Hal), exudes intelligence and self-awareness, as Sean Dugan (Kit) pursues him, consumed with desire. Both Mr. Dugan and Mr. Burns assume their roles with professional fortitude, and Mr. Clark-Price, as well, is a natural in this complex work, replete with literary and historical innuendo. It might be possible to expand on this play, with the development of Shakespeare’s early work, and add an intermission, or even a sequel. What a wonderful way that would be to inspire audiences to flock to the Bard. Today’s culture would be enriched with such educational theatre. And not too soon.

Brian Robert Burns
in "The English Channel"
Courtesy of Kim. T. Sharp

Brian Robert Burns, Stafford Clark-Price
in "The English Channel"
Courtesy of Kim. T. Sharp

Sean Dugan
in "The English Channel"
Courtesy of Kim. T. Sharp

Sean Dugan and Stafford Clark-Price
in "The English Channel"
Courtesy of Kim. T. Sharp

Stafford Clark Price
in "The English Channel"
Courtesy of Kim. T. Sharp

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