Lauren Gunderson’s “The Book of Will” shares the story of how a group of Shakespeare’s friends banded together to preserve his plays in the form of a bound book. A little group of us, big fans of actress Grace Experience, had the privilege of attending the Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s production of the playopening weekend. Making the experience even more enticing was experiencing it in the company of Experience’s parents, New York Times best-selling author Chris Bohjalian and award-winning photographer Victoria Blewer.
Upon entering the theater, the set on stage struck me, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the pages hung strategically as a backdrop to the action. Titles of Shakespeare’s plays jumped from the pages to greet us, literally surrounding the scene with “the book.” I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next as the play began. And I was not disappointed – in fact, I was completely enthralled by the entire cast who were telling a story of which I was unaware.
Following the death of William Shakespeare, his friends Henry Condell and John Heminges become frustrated and increasingly concerned with the terrible performances of his plays by actors they consider inferior. They decide that his original works must be preserved properly, but they do not have the funds to publish the massive “Shakespeare’s First Folio” properly. They resort to seeking the assistance of rival poet Ben Johnson and printer-publisher William Jaggard, who had already printed an unauthorized collection of the Bard’s plays. The action continues until the successful completion of the book’s publication, with hilarity and sadness intertwined throughout the two acts of the play.
Under the direction of Courtney O’Connor, the cast, wonderfully cohesive and clearly enjoying themselves, successfully brings the characters and story to life on an appropriately minimal set. The range of emotions ensues as the story unfolds, thanks to the wonderful performances of all the actors: Joshua Wolf Coleman, Scot Colford, Grace Experience, Shani Farrell, Ed Hoopman, Will McGarrahan, Sarah Newhouse, Fred Sullivan Jr., Hector Toledo Jr. and Lewis D. Wheeler.
Of course, our primary reason for being there was to see the ever engaging and versatile Grace Experience perform, an excellent reason on its own. Experience’s turn as Alice Heminges, John’s strong-willed daughter, is captivating. Having followed the actress’ work of her in several performances, what always strikes me are her incredibly expressive facial expressions of her, not to mention her seemingly effortless movement of her through the emotions and actions of a scene. I cannot wait to see what is next, now considering our little group to be regulars at any Grace Experience performance.
Added to that was the opportunity once again to see Fred Sullivan, Jr. in action as Ben Johnson. Sullivan is familiar to those of us from RI for his countless notable performances with Trinity Repertory Company, and whenever he is in a scene, he is larger than life and elicits all the appropriate laughter. Finally, I was treated to seeing Shani Farrell in the role of Elizabeth Condell, John’s wife. Already familiar with Farrell’s work from her role as Velma in Worcester County Light Opera’s production of “Chicago” (a performance that also featured my daughter Dalita), I knew I was in for a treat, expecting that she would bring out the nuances in her character, and I was right.
As Kevin T. Baldwin wrote in METRMag: “the latest Lyric Stage production of ‘The Book of Will’ is, quills down, one of the most gratifying and funniest plays to hit Boston this year.” If you have not already made plans to see it, I highly recommend going. “The Book of Will” runs through March 27 at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston.