The Ongoing Debate Over Who Wrote Shakespeare Takes the Stage

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PENMEN Martin Gilbertson and Chris Johnston star in ‘The Beard of Avon.’ Photo courtesy of Cloverdale Performing Arts Center

Beard vs. Bard

Who wrote Shakespeare?

The debate over who wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare takes center stage at the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center with their presentation of Amy Freed’s The Beard of Avon.

Freed comes down on the side of those who think Edward De Vere deserves the lion’s share of the credit and has written a comedy that mixes just enough fact with fancy supposition to make for an entertaining production.

Will Shakspere—the character’s name is spelled that way intentionally and is played by Connor O’Shaughnessy—seeks a more exciting and fulfilling life than that of a simple country farmer, much to the consternation of his wife Anne Hathaway (Nora Summers.) He dreams of the theatrical life and soon finds himself in the company of John Hemige (Rusty Thompson) and Henry Condel’s (Dan Stryker) merry band of players.

One of the company’s behind-the-scenes patrons happens to be Edward De Vere (Martin Gilbertson). The 17th Earl of Oxford is a frustrated playwright who must use a front—or “beard”—to get his plays produced, because the theater is SO beneath his station. Shakspere seems to have a gift for poetry and dialogue—if not plot—so it’s a variation of his name that ends up on De Vere’s, as well as those of some other entitled folk and even the Queen herself (Elizabeth Henry). In no time at all the beard of Avon becomes the Bard of Avon.

Freed has written an amusing—if overly long—script that wraps the authorship debate in a mélange of comedic styles that includes some familiar Shakespeare tropes. All that’s missing from the show is a shipwreck.

Director Beulah Vega has a good cast at work here. O’Shaughnessy is rock-solid as the earnest Will. Gilbertson, however, is a bit shaky in the role of the sexually fluid De Vere. Gilbertson’s done good work on the CPAC stage, and if he can step it up some of the show’s pacing issues would be resolved.

The bulk of the show’s comedy is handled by Thompson and Stryker, with bawdy support by Erin Lane and Lindsay John. Summer’s Hathaway has a pretty interesting character arc. Henry’s Judi Dench-on-’shrooms Queen Elizabeth is a sight to behold.

One part Shakespeare in Love, one part The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and one part, well, Shakespeare, The Beard of Avon is a worthy addition to the canon of works that riff off the Shakespeare canon. 

“The Beard of Avon” runs through Oct. 24 at the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center, 209 N. Cloverdale Blvd., Cloverdale. Saturday, 7:30pm; Sunday, 2pm. $12–$25. 707.894.2219. Recommended for ages 15+. Cloverdaleperformingarts.com. Masking and proof of vaccination are required to attend.