The setup to Bill Cain's revisionist Shakespearean fairy tale is the sort of juicy, rebellious, intrigue-filled "what if" fantasy that would make Quentin Tarantino proud: What if a villainous Lord Robert Cecil (Michael Dalberg) approached the Bard (Brendan Hutt) and his company to create a propaganda play that whitewashes the recently foiled Gunpowder Plot to bomb Parliament? And what if the King's Men deviated from their forcibly "requested" commission to instead expose a conspiracy led by a corrupt king?
Interesting premise, right? And at times over the course of this nearly three-hour Idle Muse production, it does yield some lightly comedic, often insightful scene work from Evan Jackson's capable and sharp ensemble. But Cain's long-winded, hard-reference-winking, dramaturgically leaden script and writing style will likely only appeal to the most committed Shakespeare-festival nerds.
Hell, even those audiences—ones with deep-cut Elizabethan prerequisites satisfied—may have a hard time tracking the emotional beats in the plot here, which quickly and exponentially expand from the promising and focused starting point to include Shakespeare's strained relationship with his daughter Judith (Kali Skatchke), the suppression of Catholics during the reign of James I, a fictionalized origin story of Macbeth, and the joys and pains of the creative process writ large.
By the second act, it all starts to feel more like an educational exercise than a work of theater, but deft comedic performances help keep it moving, particularly Kade Cox as a decadent, unpredictable, nefarious King James I. v