Efforts by politicians to entice or intimidate media people, artists, tastemakers and opinion-shapers in order to frame and spin their dirty doings for public consumption are nothing new. In the wake of 9/11 and the passage of the Patriot Act, Bill Cain – a playwright and screenwriter probably best-known for Sounder, who also wrote an episode of House of Cards and happens to be a Jesuit priest – got to thinking about how such scenarios might have played out in past history, and came up with the idea for his play Equivocation, which is coming to the Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck on Friday.
Struck by the coincidence that England’s infamous Gunpowder Plot happened toward the end of Shakespeare’s career, in 1605, Cain imagined a scenario in which the Bard, dependent on aristocratic patronage, is pressured by Sir Robert Cecil, close advisor to King James, to write a play that is supposed to become the definitive popular version of how suicide bomber Guy Fawkes and his crew tried to blow up the House of Parliament. In Equivocation, Cecil has ulterior motives: to focus suspicion on the Jesuit priest Henry Garnet as being part of the conspiracy in order to deflect attention away from possible discovery of his own role in the plot as the supplier of the gunpowder.
Called Shag in this play, Shakespeare does a little independent interviewing of the imprisoned plotters and finds the truth to be too nuanced and complicated to make good drama in his usual vein. Forced to choose between art and reality, between his livelihood and his conscience, he soon learns to walk a fine line of “equivocation,” telling the true story symbolically through ambiguous word choice. He is also forced to confront the way that he has emotionally distanced himself from his daughter Judith since the death of his son, her twin Hamnet.
The Rhinebeck Theatre Society (RTS)’s production of Equivocation is directed by Ellen Honig, and the cast includes Molly Feibel, Harrison Forman, Michael Frohnhoffer, Michael Juzwak, Jeremy Ratel and Lou Trapani. Thanks to generous underwriting by several donors, RTS will implement a “pay-what-you-want” ticket-pricing policy for the play’s two-week run in order to broaden its audience. “We are eager to bring younger, more diverse audiences to our productions,” says RTS president Andy Weintraub. “Equivocation is the perfect vehicle: It’s fast-moving, witty, full of surprises and deals with contemporary issues such as dirty politics and terrorism.”
The show opens on Friday, October 3 and runs through Sunday, October 12, with performances beginning at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays. Set-your-own-price tickets are available at https://centerforperformingarts.org/whats-playing or by calling the box office at (845) 876-3080.
Equivocation, Thursday, October 9, Friday-Saturday, October 3/4 & 10/11, 8 p.m., Sunday, October 5 & 12, 3 p.m., Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck, 661 Route 308, Rhinebeck; (845) 876-3080, https://centerforperformingarts.org.