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Lauren Gunderson's


Monday, December 10, 2018

7:30 PM
Lucille Lortel Theatre
Directed by Davis McCallum
Featuring  Marco Barricelli, Thaddeus Fitzpatrick, Jennifer LeBlanc, Orlando Pabotoy, Linda Powell, Kurt Rhoads, Antoinette Robinson, Triney Sandoval, Richard Thieriot, Reggie D. White and Nance Williamson.

"To be or not to be, Aye there's the point..." Shakespeare has only been dead three years and already they’re botching his lines at the local playhouse, and it’s up to his old friends to set the record—and all of literary and theatrical history—straight. Aging actors Henry Condell and John Heminges take on a money-hungry publisher, a drunken poet laureate, and Heminges’s own strong-minded daughter, as they piece together a little book we call the First Folio. Lauren Gunderson, one of the most-produced playwrights in America, tells this tale of human emotion and historical importance “in a most humorous, entertaining and irreverent fashion” (Chicago Tribune).  


“It will bring tears of both laughter and sorrow to all but the most jaded audience member’s eyes. It is, in a word, a triumph.” —Boulder Weekly” 


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The Book of Will is a play about many things - friendship, legacy, words, paper, and the very point of theatre - but the most meaningful moment of this story for me comes in a reference to comedy. Rebecca, friend of Will Shakespeare’s, says the she finds herself needing comedies the older she gets.


Rebecca: Laughter is death's greatest defiance, I think.


Death cringes when we laugh. We can’t stop it, but laughter helps death’s survivors thrive.


On dark days I don't always believe Rebecca. The world is often hard and scary and unfair. How can I muster a smile with so much sorrow? But Rebecca is right. That's when we need authentic, defiant laughter the most. Laughter is honest; it's hard to fake and hard to earn. Laughter is liberating, it unleashes joy. Laughter is a truth-teller, it reveals hypocrisy. Laughter is a bridge-builder, it connect us.


Even on a primal biological level, laughter is one of evolution’s tools to brings us together. Strangers are made alike in our spontaneous response to something we all find funny. Laughter is physical, vocal, and communal; you feel it, hear it, and thus can locate yourself in a group of gigglers. Laughter unites.


I wrote that line of Rebecca's because, like her, I need comedy the older I get. I need the surprise of it, the energy it gives me, the perspective, the endurance, the joy and the community. Of course Shakespeare's play were full of comedy. Even the darkest of his plays are mottled with jokes and jest. Comedy amidst tragedy (and vice versa) was the revelation of Shakespeare’s writing for me. I hope he sees his work in mine all these centuries later.


I hope this play makes you laugh. I hope this play makes you feel like you're one of Shakespeare's friends sharing stories in the bar after a day's work on the boards of The Globe Theatre. In that way this play will have done some theatrical magic before your eyes; the magic of time traveling to bygone era just to realize that their relationships, revelations and joy would fit in our own time. Things might change, but people don't change as much as we think they do. People love like they did 400 years ago, they mourn, the celebrate, and a they laugh. I hope you do so with us tonight.



Richard Burbage was the leading actor of the King’s Men, known to have played the roles of Richard III, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, and probably many others.  As he says in the opening scene of The Book of Will, he knew all the plays by heart, for “that’s the only way you get to tell everyone else what to do.”  It is 1619, three years after Shakespeare’s death, and the senior shareholders of the King’s Men, Burbage, John Heminges, and Henry Condell, are sitting in a tap house near the Globe grumbling about a shoddy performance of Hamlet based on a pirated “bad quarto” of the play.  Quartos, inexpensive texts often printed shortly after early performances, might be based on the acting company’s own script.  But they could also be stolen, perhaps through a process called memorial reconstruction, whereby a couple of actors compose a rough approximation of the play based on what they can remember of their own lines and the lines of other characters.  In The Book of Will the quest for Shakespeare’s authentic texts begins when Burbage dies suddenly and Heminges, Condell, and Heminges’s daughter Alice realize with a start that no one else knew the lines of the plays the way he did.  Heminges and Condell are accompanied by lively and determined wives who help them cast a wide net for “sides,” the partial scripts actors were given that included only one character’s lines. They also hope to find promptbooks, the complete texts that were presented to the Master of the Revels for licensing, and which then incorporated whatever changes he required in his function as censor. There are legal obstacles as well; as the printer William Jaggard explains, once a play has been published it belongs to the printing house or the investor who subsidized the printing, and Jaggard claims to have the rights to eighteen of Shakespeare’s thirty-six plays.  Much of the Globe’s inventory had been lost, perhaps during the fire of June 29, 1613, caused by a faulty cannon during a performance of Henry VIII.


Scholars and editors in their own quests for definitive texts of the plays have searched in vain for the promptbooks and Shakespeare’s “foul papers,” or drafts.  Here is where Gunderson makes an imaginative intervention: she proposes that this evidence did exist in 1619 and devises a crucial role for a historical figure, the scrivener Ralph Crane.  He produces a messy pile of foul papers that, he says, “escaped the fire under my arm,” a perfect manuscript in Shakespeare’s hand for Henry VI, and a promptbook for King John. These, with copies of the printed first and second quartos of several plays and the actors’ own memories, will help them arrive at the definitive large-format Folio edition that Jaggard’s son Isaac agrees to print.  This will be a costly undertaking, and a nearly unprecedented one, for the only English writer to publish his “complete works” was the rival playwright and poet laureate Ben Jonson. The First Folio finally appeared 1623, with a preface by Heminges and Condell, a poetic tribute by Jonson, and a dedication to two wealthy patrons, the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery.  The volumes sold for one pound each, a substantial sum. In The Book of Will, Heminges objects to the omission of Pericles; his fondness for the then-popular but probably co-authored play is one of the Gunderson’s running jokes.  The large cast also includes brief appearances by Emilia Bassano Lanier, a poet and, some say, the model for the Dark Lady of the sonnets, and Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway.     



Lauren Gunderson is the most produced playwright in America of 2017, the winner of the Lanford Wilson Award, the Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award and the Otis Guernsey New Voices Award, she is also a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and John Gassner Award for Playwriting, and a recipient of the Mellon Foundation’s 3-Year Residency with Marin Theatre Company. She studied Southern Literature and Drama at Emory University, and Dramatic Writing at NYU’s Tisch School where she was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship. Her work has been commissioned, produced and developed at companies across the US including South Cost Rep (Emilie, Silent Sky), The Kennedy Center (The Amazing Adventures of Dr. Wonderful And Her Dog!), Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The O’Neill, The Denver Center, San Francisco Playhouse, Marin Theatre, Synchronicity, Berkeley Rep, Shotgun Players, TheatreWorks, Crowded Fire and more.  She co-authored Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley with Margot Melcon, which was one of the most produced plays in America in 2017. Her work is published at Playscripts (I and You, Exit Pursued By A Bear, The Taming, and Toil And Trouble), Dramatists (The Revolutionists, The Book of Will, Silent Sky, Bauer, Miss Bennet) and Samuel French (Emilie). Her picture book Dr Wonderful: Blast Off to the Moon was be released from Two Lions / Amazon in May 2017.


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Casting subject to change.


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