Bill Cain’s 2009 play Equivocation is an inspired but exhausting mashup of Shakespeare and 17th-century British history. Its premise, that The Bard himself has been commissioned to write a propaganda play based on King James I’s account of the Gunpowder Plot, raises possibilities for substantive political and historical discourse. But Equivocation, being given its regional premiere at Lamb’s Players Theatre under the direction of Deborah Gilmour Smyth, staggers under the heft of Cain’s lengthy script, jammed as it is with subtext and examinations of truths, parsing of language and a relentlessness to be both clever and deep.
That being said, Equivocation’s comedy and its parodic nods to the body politic of the future play out well. Have the question of compromise or the blurring of truth ever been more relevant than in these inscrutable times we live in? With these sometimes-surprising allusions come occasions for audience laughter, though on opening night in Coronado more than a few in attendance didn’t seem to be “getting it,” as they say. The narrative’s dissection of conscience and betrayal, on the other hand, turns positively academic, deadening what jesting or stage antics preceded it. Equivocation perhaps tries to be two plays in one—always a chancy proposition.
As for the ensemble, Robert Smyth (as “Shagspear”) has all the gravity and mindful elocution to transcend the play’s structural shortcomings. Even when his character’s motivations feel mercurial, Smyth evinces the surefootedness of a desirable literary hero. He is supported in the Lamb’s production by a stalwart cast that includes an equally charismatic Paul Eggington in multiple roles, chiefly that of a martyred cleric-rebel and an ornery member of Shag’s troupe. Francis Gercke admirably handles the role of the pitiable, hunchbacked Robert Cecil, heartlessly called “beagle” by the king. And as Shag’s daughter, Judith, Catie Grady makes the most of a part that should’ve been larger.
Figuring Equivocation’s twists and turns may give you a mild headache, but for relief there is a soothing cello played intermittently on stage by Diana Elledge.
Equivocation runs through Nov. 20 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado. $22-$68; lambsplayers.org
The Fantasticks: Two fathers stage a kidnapping in the hope that their two children fall in love in this ’60s musical. Directed by Ted Leib, it opens Nov. 11 at Scripps Ranch Theatre. scrippsranchtheatre.org
The Normal Heart: Larry Kramer’s seminal work about the early days of the AIDS crisis in New York City. Presented by ion Theatre Group, it opens in previews Nov. 12 at the BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
Vieux Carré: Tennessee Williams’ memory play about a young, gay writer living in a boarding house filled with dying souls. Directed by Will Detlefsen, it opens Nov. 12 at the Mandell Weiss Forum at UCSD in La Jolla. theatre.ucsd.edu
The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Shakespeare’s comedy about two BFs who fall in love with the same woman. Directed by Richard Seer, it opens Nov. 12 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Phoebe in Winter: A staged reading of Jen Silverman’s play about three brothers who return home from war only to find their problems are just beginning. Presented by the La Jolla Theatre Ensemble, it happens Nov. 15 at the La Jolla Library. fruitlessmoontheatreworks.org
The Sound of Music: The Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical about Maria and the famous von Trapp family. Directed by Jack O’Brien, it opens Nov. 15 at the San Diego Civic Theatre in the Gaslamp.
Native Son : Adapted from Richard Wright’s classic novel, this play tells the story of a young black man’s struggles in ’30s Chicago. Written by Nambi E. Kelley, it runs through Nov. 12 at the UCSD Potiker Theatre in La Jolla. theatre.ucsd.edu
Baby with the Bathwater : Playwright Christopher Durang explores the pitfalls and hilarity of first-time parenthood in this relatable comedy. Presented by Oceanside Theater Company, it runs through Nov. 13 at the Brooks Theatre in Oceanside. oceansidetheatre.org
The Cocktail Hour : An affluent New England family’s reunion is hilariously shaken up when one of the sons reveals he’s written a script that hits a little too close to home. Directed by Randall Hickman, it runs through Nov. 13 at the Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.biz
Disgraced : Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer-winning drama about a Muslim man who hosts a dinner party for his African-American co-worker and her Jewish husband, only to have the dinner go horribly wrong. Presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre, it runs through Nov. 13 at the Lyceum Stage in the Gaslamp. sdrep.org
Julius Caesar : Shakespeare’s classic about the Roman general and politician whose celebrity was seen by many as a threat to the Republic. Directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, it runs through Nov. 13 at the SDSU Experimental Theatre in the College Area.
Laughter on the 23rd Floor : Neil Simon’s comedy about his early days in live television working with the likes of Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks. Directed by Tom Markus, it runs through Nov. 13 at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
God of Carnage : In Yasmina Reza’s comedy, two sets of parents tussle after their kids get into a playground fight. Directed by Jessica Bird, it runs through Nov. 13 at the New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
November : David Mamet’s biting political comedy about an inept, outgoing U.S. president who has put the office up for sale. Directed by Steve Murdock, it runs through Nov. 19 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.info
Bad Seed : Maxwell Anderson’s thriller about a little girl who may have a dark side. Directed by Kristen Fogle, it runs through Nov. 20 at Lamplighter’s Community Theatre in La Mesa. lamplighterslamesa.com
Equivocation : A playwright named “Shagspeare” is forcibly commissioned by the King to write the definitive history of the Gunpowder Plot in Bill Cain’s acclaimed who-done-it. Directed by Deborah Gilmour Smyth, it runs through Nov. 20 at the Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
Miss You Like Hell : In this world premiere musical, a teenage girl sets out on a road trip with her free-spirited Latina mother. Written by Erin McKeown, it runs through Dec. 4 at the La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org
A Chorus Line : The classic musical about a group of gypsies who audition for a Broadway show. Directed by Thomas Fitzpatrick, it runs through Dec. 11 at the Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas : Now in its 19th year, this holiday classic tells the musical tale of a green grump who plans to ruin the holidays for the town of Whoville. Directed by James Vásquez, it runs through Dec. 26 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org