Underneath is a deceptively simple plot about one of the most famous plots ever, one that many have heard of, but know little about. It’s the Gunpowder Plot, the alleged (apparently) conspiracy of English Catholics to blow up Parliament and the increasingly intolerant James I with it.
In Cain’s play, Secretary of State Robert Cecil, first Earl of Salisbury, the power behind the throne operating from the equivalent of undisclosed locations, orders Shakespeare to write a play about the plot — in one week. The text is already provided, the play needing only a bit of dialogue from Shakespeare and his name as the author.
Shakespeare resists the call to turn into a "propagandist," but a flat refusal could cost him and his theatrical cooperative their livelihood, or even lives.
Development of the fairly straightforward setup is dazzling. Anthony Heald plays Shakespeare, Christine Albright is the "other daughter" Judith, and four members of Shakespeare’s company play themselves and all other roles, including the king (Jonathan Haugen), the conspirators and, most memorably, Father Henry Garnet, England’s principal Jesuit.
As portrayed by Richard Elmore, Garnet gives the play its philosophical-moral underpinning and even its title. The priest was the author of "A Treatise of Equivocation," providing an alternative to "yes or no" when the choice would result only in the unacceptable consequences of lie or die, death or betrayal (of self, religion, friends).
John Tufts and Gregory Linington are the other multiple-role actors, performing in a flawless ensemble. Festival Artistic Director Bill Rauch staged the play in a robust manner on Christopher Acebo’s sparse but effective set.
Presented by: Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Where: Angus Bowmer Theatre, Ashland, Ore.
When: Through Oct. 31
Tickets: $20 to $81
Contact: (541) 482-0446, www.osfashland.org
The real story of Fr. Henry Garnet, S.J. (here)
The real story of the Gunpowder Plot (here)
Engraving is of Fr. Henry Garnet prior to his being hung