Charles Shaw Robinson as Shagspeare and Andrew Hurteau as Sir Robert Cecil in EQUIVOCATION by Bill Cain at Marin Theatre Company. | Photo by Kevin Berne

Were there really weapons of mass destruction?  Will torture get us the answers we need, or just the answers we want?  Is the country run by its dim, childlike, egocentric leader, or the Machiavellian power behind the throne? Is it morally correct to answer the question asked, or the question implied?

Playwright Bill Cain asks these questions and more not of today’s news, but of William Shagspeare, the protagonist of his new play Equivocation, now in previews at the Marin Theater Company.

King James I, reeling in shock and anger after the failed Gunpowder Plot, (where noble conspirators tunneled under Parliament and placed 36 kegs of gunpowder set to explode and kill the King and his court), commissions Shagspeare to write a play about it.  Or at least his minister, Sir Robert Cecil, so instructs the author.

Cecil, ruthless, crippled, evil, manipulative, devoid of conscience or remorse, is strikingly reminiscent of Dick Cheney as he pulls the strings and makes everyone dance. The King is enthralled with witches, and doesn’t much understand what is really happening around him, but Cecil sees to it that he doesn’t need to be aware.

Shagspeare doesn’t really believe in the conspiracy (how could three men tunnel under Parliament undiscovered?  Where did the dirt go?  How did they get rid of the water from the Thames?) but must write the play in any event.

Various characters define “equivocation” as “telling the truth in dangerous times”, and that is the challenge set forth. The solution is the second act, of course.

Marin Theater is an Equity house; all the actors are professionals, and it shows.  I thought Andrew Hurteau, as Cecil (and a variety of other characters) stole the show from Charles Shaw Robinson (as Shagspeare).

Although you might that there was more than enough plot, playwright Cain burdens the script with an irrelevant sub-plot regarding Shagspeare’s daughter and her late twin brother.  Given that the play runs 2:45, with extended fight scenes that have little real relevance, this secondary plot feels quite superfluous to me.

What we saw was a premiere: the official opening is Tuesday night.  Once again I’m violating deep journalistic canons to bring you the latest news of the Bay Area theater scene.  Please don’t tell the Chronicle.

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