Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Circle of Will by Bill Cakmis and Jack Grapes

By Joe Straw

They laughed about Shakespeare in Tennessee because no one knew what the characters were saying.  And what was this weird foreign language?  For most, having to read Shakespeare in front of the high school class was an exercise in futility. The teacher called on me to read it. I did. Then she asked me to explain it. I did and as I did her eyes got wide and started to moisten around the edges.  And then she got this belligerent look on her face and asked: Where did you get all this?

“It’s in English and it’s on the page.”

Circle of Will written by Bill Cakmis and Jack Grapes, directed by Brian Herskowitz and produced by Tom Brocato is presented by Butterfield Road Productions at the Macha Theatre in West Hollywood.

Circle of Will is described as a comedy in one act (true), two episodes (maybe), three scenes (well…), four flashbacks (I only counted two.), five soliloquies (there seemed - many) six speeches (see soliloquies), seven clever ripostes (it’s French, look it up) eight quotable quotes (One “…so heavy he couldn’t get it up”), nine worthy pantomimes (false), ten constant routines (three) and a partridge in a pear tree (no bird and no fruits to be found.)

This was to be a play about the lost years of William Shakespeare (Jack Grapes), circa 1610 and his leading celebrated actor Richard Burbage (Joe Briggs) complete with Elizabethan theatrical garb. By first glance, one would figure this would be something one could sink his Elizabethan false teeth into, but alas poor Yorick this was not what was expected.

And speaking of Yorick, the play starts with Shakespeare pulling a recently deceased female cadaver behind the curtain waiting every few seconds before getting some kind of sign from Burbage to proceed.

Burbage seems nonplussed about the dead body left to rot behind the drapes.  After all, there is a life, here, now, in front of the curtain, downstage, and it is he!

Burbage wants Shakespeare to write a decent play for him and not “Gonzago and The King” the drivel he is writing these day.  Burbage wants to play the hero, a man and not a woman this time.  No more female parts for him.  (This was odd as Burbage in real life had the title roles in Hamlet, Richard III, Othello, and King Lear.)  What is this thing about playing a woman? 

No matter, but this particular Burbage was relatively young. Not four years younger than Shakespeare in real life. Again, no matter.  Nevertheless, take an imaginative moment, squint, and he could play a woman, the right lighting, and a dash of makeup. But, again no matter!

No matter how much Shakespeare tries to convince Burbage to stay, Burbage is having none of it.  He would rather head off with the boys to play Commedia dell’arte in Italy.  And as he is walking out the door…


There is a sudden transformation in Burbage, now a majestic, handsome, stoic, and kind to small bunnies man. 

But all is not right in our tights with our tight little Elizabethan world.  The set is not right.  The clothes not right. The knives, fake. The poison, all too real and the antidote completely drained.  So what to do?

Circle of Will written by Bill Cakmis and Jack Grapes is not something remotely connected to the past.  The writing is not in iambic pentameter and the characters dialogue seems modern day. At first listen it is an existential play but not connected to any kind of reality.

So why don’t we lay down our critical pencils and just go with it? Yes? No.

The writers use of breaking the forth wall pulls the audience into an extremely uncomfortable situation and structure becomes improvisational like Robin Williams in a Mork and Mindy episode with half the wit. 

But, this long heartache is overcome by a grand moment on stage that lifts us right out of our seats!  How foolish of us not to open our minds and believe.

Nevertheless, getting there was a struggle of starts and stops of breaking character and long waits that seemed like an eternity.

Grapes as Shakespeare was good.  Certainly not the picture of Shakespeare one would have imagined on a calendar. It’s certainly open to discussion, but character development should be a premium here and Shakespeare should remain Shakespeare until he breaks the fourth wall and then return to being Shakespeare when returning. 

Sweating profusely as he was giving 150%, a young statuesque Briggs as Richard “Dirk” Burbage was emoting with unabashed parallelism. He is a remarkable actor with remarkable moments on stage playing what appears to be a number of characters on stage.  A little more diversity in his character portrayals would only add to his performance.

John Brocato and Josh Grapes give their best as the First and Second Eunuch respectively.  There was a trace of sadness in their characters.  For eunuchs this was not without reason.

There are others in the cast and they delight in their ghostly appearances. But Gina Hecht was just incredible.  Wow!  Possibly one of the best performances I’ve seen this year. 

Brian Herskowitz directs this unusually funny cast. The play is very improvisational when at times it needs more structure.  And because of this some of the actors lose focus on their objectives.  It is critical that a play of this kind have strong structural beginning so that breaking the fourth wall will have more meaning. It’s a small quibble.  Still there are a lot of really funny moments in this show.

Also, the relationship needs work to solidify all that is going on, on stage.  Playwright – actor, director - actor, master – slave, lovers – haters, the improvisational lists are infinite.

Functional set design by Martin C. Vallejo. Nice costumes by Anasuya Engel with nice sound and lighting design by Carey Dunn.

Go see it.  It’s in English and it’s on the page.

Through August 15, 2010

Reservations:  323-960-7822

Online Ticketing:



  1. And then she got this belligerent look on her face and asked: Where did you get all this?

    “It’s in English and it’s on the page.”

    Wonderful story.

    Joe, I have not been to a play in a long time, but your reviews make me wonder what I have been missing.

  2. Ance,

    The plays are a feast for the mind and keep me satisfied and thinking for weeks.

    Thank you.

    Joe Straw