William Shakespeare wrote some of the world’s most beloved plays – but without his friends, they may have been lost to history! Follow the members of Shakespeare’s own company as they cunningly navigate the production of the 1623 First Folio. They may not have any money or clear-cut rights to his work, but they’re armed with wit, humor, a deep camaraderie and a passion to preserve the plays that shaped their lives. With the help of their wives and colleagues, two actors set out not only to print a collection, but to uphold a legacy for the world. From the co-author of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.
Read about the real historical figures portrayed in The Book of Will.
“A Terrific comedy. Very much in the style of ‘Shakespeare in Love’ … Humorous, entertaining and irreverent.”- Chicago Tribune
This production is supported in part by:
Photos by Liz Lauren
by Chris Jones
November 11, 2017
They saved Shakespeare: ‘The Book of Will’ is a dramatic story told well
In the early 1620s, a couple of aging actors named Henry Condell and John Heminges set about the task of publishing, in a single, bound volume, all of the plays of their late and beloved pal William Shakespeare. “Just to have them all together,” their characters say in Lauren Gunderson’s terrific play about their escapade. “So we know they’re safe.”
As Gunderson’s terrific comedy makes very clear at Northlight Theatre, this turned out be one of the most crucial cultural acts in the history of Western civilization, far eclipsing either of the these two actors’ actual live performances. As you watch Gunderson’s play tell this story — in a most humorous, entertaining and irreverent fashion — you start to wonder how many comparable dead geniuses were left in the dust of history because they didn’t have generous and determined former colleagues determined to make them the right posthumous deal. Maybe it will happen to you.
…If you’re a geek for this stuff, I’ve probably convinced you that you’ll have fun at this show, which is a high-end comedy very much in the style of “Shakespeare in Love,” although I would argue that “The Book of Will” actually is a superior piece of writing to that Disney movie-turned-play because “Will” doesn’t get so trapped in anachronistic cleverness and the structurally adroit, but focuses instead on earnest human emotion and historical weight. While still having fun.
by Aaron Lockman
November 21, 2017
On the surface, THE BOOK OF WILL, is a dramedy about Shakespeare’s friends trying to get the First Folio published. And on that front, it succeeds tremendously. Playwright Lauren Gunderson does an excellent job of balancing historical accuracy with the artful building of lovable, dynamic characters. The historically accurate part is fascinating in its own right: the First Folio wasn’t so much written down as it was cobbled together from disparate puzzle pieces. Since theaters didn’t keep full scripts – giving each actor only his own lines decreased the chances of creative theft — the King’s Men had to do some extensive digging. From inaccurate quartos published by other parties, to first drafts that miraculously survived fires, to actors’ sides kept in closets over the years, the compiling alone was daunting. And then getting it published! I don’t want to spoil too much, but suffice it to say that modern copyright law seems practically straightforward compared to the byzantine maze that was the Elizabethan world of publishing.
But of course we don’t watch the play for just that; the characters are why we stay in our seats. And what this production hammers home from the get-go is that these people are theater geeks, just like us. They each have their own distinct and beautifully drawn personalities, yes. But more importantly, they form their own opinions about Shakespeare’s work, and have their own individual connections, quirks, and preferences…
…THE BOOK OF WILL is a resounding triumph. If you are a Shakespeare nerd, you will love this play. If you are dragged to see this play by a Shakespeare nerd, you will fall in love regardless.
CHICAGOLAND THEATRE REVIEWS
by Dan Zeff
November 18, 2017
The Book of Will at Northlight Theatre
A case could be made for the First Folio as the most important single book ever published in the English language. It’s only competitor might be the King James version of the Bible. The King James version was assembled by a body of learned men under the patronage of King James I from 1604 to 1611. The First Folio, the first compendium of all the plays by William Shakespeare, was a labor of love from 1619 to 1623 by a pair of English actors of no social standing in England.
Playwright Lauren Gunderson’s drama “The Book of Will” recreates the history of the work leading up to its publication. The play is on view at the Northlight Theatre in a beautifully acted and staged production that is entertaining, educational, exciting, and sometimes moving.
But “The Book of Will” is for all seasons. This is a play with humor and feeling about men and women on a selfless mission. The audience, no matter what its knowledge of Shakespeare and his world, should revel in the journey of the central characters as they finally complete the task of rescuing their friend’s works for future generations. They had no way of knowing that they were founding a vast industry of scholarship as experts through the centuries built careers on improving and parsing the texts in that First Folio. Bottom line, Gunderson and the Northlight have made the Heminges and Condell quest come alive, giving the audiences an enjoyable and informative evening on a topic many patrons entering the theater may be feared would not be so engrossing.
CHICAGO THEATER AND ARTS
by Jodie Jacobs
November 18, 2017
Brilliant play conclusion confirms value of printed words
The paradox of William Shakespeare is that his works reflect the motives of people at all levels of society from kings to working classes and peons and from husbands and wives to scoundrels and mistresses, but even though his works were popular with all classes during his lifetime and his plays contain an amazing amount of dead-on observations still quoted now, those plays tend to attract an intellectual audience today rather than the general audience of his time.
But Shakespeare’s company members, usually referred to as the Kings’ Men, their title when King James I became their patron in 1603, really appreciated the value of the words they were saying.
In ‘The Book of Will,’ now at Northlight Theatre, playwright Lauren Gunderson shows how that appreciation likely led to the publication of the Bard’s works in the 1623 First Folio.
Rebecca Heminges/Anne Hathaway
Rengin is very happy to be returning to Northlight. Some of her many Chicago credits include Mosque Alert (Silk Road Rising); Women at War (Rivendell); Awake And Sing (Steppenwolf); Gypsy, Macbeth, and The Merchant Of Venice (Chicago Shakespeare); Prelude To A Kiss (Wellington Theater); The Iceman Cometh, A Little Night Music, High Holidays, and Jolly (Goodman); Float (About Face) and numerous staged readings with “The Bernie Sahlins Players.” Regional credits include two seasons with Peninsula Players, Galway Arts Festival, Trinity Repertory Company, Huntington Theater, Madison Repertory Theater, and Milwaukee Rep. Film credits include Stranger Than Fiction, Crush, A Piece Of Eden, and Light It Up. Television and Voice Over credits include Chicago Fire, Sirens, ER, Cupid, The Human Factor, and Yeesha in the MYST computer game series.
Alice Heminges/Susannah Shakespeare
Dana is thrilled to be making her Northlight debut and to work with Jessica Thebus once again. Chicago credits include The Few (Steep), Rolling (Jackalope), Tell Me What You Remember (Erasing the Distance), Abraham Lincoln Was A F@gg@t (About Face; Jeff Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress), Hank Williams: The Lost Highway (American Blues; Equity Jeff for Best Musical), Miss Marx (Strawdog), Rabbit (Stage Left), After The Revolution (Next), The Count Of Monte Cristo (Lifeline), Baal (TUTA), and This Happy Breed (Timeline). Dana has understudied at Steppenwolf, Goodman and Victory Gardens and is a graduate of The School at Steppenwolf. She has also appeared on NBC’s Chicago Med and the upcoming POP TV series Hot Date. She is represented by Grossman & Jack Talent and as always, thanks Baude for his love and support.
Elizabeth Condell, et al.
McKinley is pleased to return to Northlight where she last appeared in [title of show]. Recent credits include Fun Home (Victory Gardens), Parade (Writers), My Way (Theatre at the Center), Deathtrap (Drury Lane Oakbrook), The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes (Mercury), and The Merry Widow and Carousel (Lyric Opera). Other Chicago credits include Road Show, Sunday in the Park with George, Julius Caesar, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Antony and Cleopatra, and Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 (Chicago Shakespeare); Putting It Together (Porchlight); The Sound of Music and Ragtime (Drury Lane); Turn of the Century, The Visit, and Floyd Collins (Goodman); Winesburg Ohio (Steppenwolf); Into the Woods (Marriott Theatre); James Joyce’s The Dead, Cymbeline and Pericles (Court).
Thomas J. Cox
Ralph Crane, et al.
Thomas is happy to be returning to the Northlight, where he last appeared in The Outgoing Tide with John Mahoney and Rondi Reed, directed by BJ Jones, which also traveled to the Galway Arts Festival. Other Northlight productions include Pride and Prejudice and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. As a founding ensemble member with Lookingglass Theatre, he has appeared in many productions since 1988, including Nelson Algren: For Keeps and a Single Day (Joseph Jefferson Nomination, Solo Performance), Old Curiosity Shop (Joseph Jefferson Nomination, Supporting Actor), as Winston Smith in 1984, and as Hook in Peter Pan (a play). He has appeared regionally at Goodman, Steppenwolf, Court, House, Gift, and Milwaukee Rep Theatres. Film/TV: Chicago Fire (NBC), Brotherhood (Showtime), Since You’ve Been Gone (Miramax).
Ben Jonson, et al.
William most recently appeared at Northlight in The Odd Couple. Other favorite Chicago plays include House and Garden, The Goat or Who is Sylvia and Moonlight and Magnolias (Goodman); The Merry Wives of Windsor, Cyrano de Bergerac, Henry VII, and The Madness of George III (Chicago Shakespeare); We All Went Down to Amsterdam (Steppenwolf); The Hammer Trinity Marathon (House Theatre); and The Pitmen Painters (TimeLine). William was recently a member of the Asolo Repertory company in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Little Foxes (both directed by Frank Galati), All The Way, The Great Society, and Ah Wilderness!. Film/TV: Oz the Great and Powerful, The Merry Gentleman, Fred Claus, Stranger Than Fiction, The Break-Up, The Company, Chicago P.D., Empire, The Exorcist, Crisis, Chicago Fire, Mob Doctor, and Leverage.
Marcus, et al.
Sam happily returns to Northlight after fight directing White Guy on the Bus and understudying The Whipping Man and 4000 Miles. Recent credits include Cymbeline and The Long Christmas Ride Home (Strawdog), A Loss of Roses and Playboy of the Western World (Raven), The Diary of Anne Frank (Writers), Hamlet and Cymbeline (Michigan Shakespeare Festival), as well as productions with Jackalope, The Factory, Oak Park Festival Theatre and various understudy credits with Writers and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Sam is also a freelance fight director with credits at Court, Victory Gardens, Steppenwolf for Young Adults, Steep and Teatro Vista. Sam is a proud Strawdog Ensemble Member and graduate of Columbia College Chicago. You can see him next in Strawdog’s world premiere of Damascus.
Gregory is very happy to be beginning his Chicago career at Northlight! New York credits include Throne of Blood at BAM and The Unfortunates at Joe’s Pub. Regional credits include Ford’s Theatre, Arena Stage, Shakespeare Theatre (DC), Kennedy Center, Theater J, Round House Theatre, Seattle Rep, Berkeley Rep, Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, CTG, PCPA, Yale Rep. Gregory was a 12-Year Company Member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and a 5-Year Company Member of Misery Loves Company in Prague, Czech Republic. Film and Television credits include Innocent Sleep, Persuasion, Harrison’s Flowers; Grey’s Anatomy, Shameless, Major Crimes, The West Wing. He was a teacher at the Shakespeare Theatre (DC) and Georgetown University. Training includes The Groundlings, SITI Company and the Pacific Conservatory for the Performing Arts. gregorylinington.com
Jim returns to Northlight after previously appearing in All In The Timing. Select credits include Farnsworth Invention, Of Mice and Men, Guys and Dolls (Broadway); Billy Elliot (1st National); Tartuffe, Candide (Weston Playhouse); Grapes of Wrath (Ford’s Theatre); Hughie, The Homecoming (Gare St. Lazare Players, Paris); M the Murderer (Organic Theatre) and Marriage Play (Merrimack Rep). Chicago credits include Life Sucks (Lookingglass), Scapin (American Blues), Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Man Who Came to Dinner (Steppenwolf). Jim is an Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) best actor nominee. TV and Film credits include Masters of Sex, Bones, The Closer, CSI, Grey’s Anatomy, The Shield, Felicity, Roswell, Magnolia, A Mighty Wind, Flatliners, Latter Days, Drunkboat, Contagion, The Crash, and Inheritance (2017).
Ed Knight/Isaac Jaggard
Luigi is happy to be back at Northlight! Broadway: Slave Play; Chicago: Steppenwolf, The Goodman, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Court Theatre; Regional Theatre: Signature Theatre (DC), Woolly Mammoth, Folger Theatre, Utah Shakespeare Festival, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, Walnut Street Theatre, Wilma Theater, Philadelphia Theatre Company, Arden Theatre, People’s Light and Theatre, Lantern Theater, Act II Playhouse, Milwaukee Rep; TV: Chicago PD, Chicago Med (upcoming); Film: All Happy Families. For Dad, Josh and the crew, and Grampa Sonny.
Richard Burbage, et al.
Austin is thrilled to make his Northlight debut. Chicago credits: In The Garden (Lookingglass), Merchant of Venice (Back Room Shakespeare) and The Liar (Writers; u/s). As co-artistic director of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, he’s appeared off-Broadway, in London’s West End, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, the White House, and theaters across the country. TV credits include The West Wing, The Practice, Ally McBeal, Felicity, Gilmore Girls, Alias, 24, and The X-Files. Co-author of the illustrated children’s book Pop-Up Shakespeare, Austin co-wrote and starred in William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) (Folger Theatre, 2016), nine other “Complete (abridged)” comedies, and produces and hosts the weekly (since 2006) Reduced Shakespeare Company Podcast. Twitter: @austintichenor
Lauren has been one of the most produced playwrights in America since 2015 topping the list twice including 2019-20. She is a two-time winner of the Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award for I and You and The Book of Will, the winner of the Lanford Wilson Award and the Otis Guernsey New Voices Award, a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and John Gassner Award for Playwriting, and a recipient of the Mellon Foundation’s Residency with Marin Theatre Company. She studied Southern Literature and Drama at Emory University, and Dramatic Writing at NYU’s Tisch School where she was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship. She co-authored the Miss Bennet plays with Margot Melcon. Her work is published at Playscripts (I and You, Exit Pursued By A Bear, The Taming, and Toil And Trouble), Dramatists Play Service (The Revolutionists, The Book of Will, Silent Sky, Bauer, Natural Shocks, The Wickhams, and Miss Bennet) and Samuel French (Emilie). Her picture book Dr Wonderful: Blast Off to the Moon is available from Two Lions/Amazon.
Jessica is a director of theater and an educator based in Chicago. Past Northlight credits include Into the Breeches!, The Book of Will, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Shining Lives: A Musical, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Inherit the Wind and Red Herring. At Steppenwolf, she has directed Sex with Strangers, Intimate Apparel, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, No Place Like Home, When the Messenger is Hot (also at 59 E 59th in NYC) and Sonia Flew. Other favorite projects: Richard III (Gift), In the Garden by Sarah Gmitter (Lookingglass), Buzzer by Tracy Scott Wilson (Goodman), Welcome Home Jenny Sutter (Next), As You Like It (Oregon Shakespeare), The Feast: an intimate Tempest (Chicago Shakespeare with Redmoon). She is Director of the Graduate Directing Program at Northwestern University.
Richard & Jacqueline Penrod
Richard and Jacqueline are very happy to be collaborating once again with Northlight, having previously designed Gee’s Bend, Pride and Prejudice, Tuesdays with Morrie, The Mystry of Irma Vep, At Wit’s End, and Over the Tavern. Recent designs include: Pygmalion, Northanger Abbey, Love and Information, and The Importance of Being Earnest (Remy Bumppo); Apartment 3A, and Stick Fly (Windy City Playhouse); Nice Work If You Can Get It, Big Fish, and All Shook Up (Theatre at the Center); Richard III (Gift Theatre at Steppenwolf); Mud Sky Blue (Red Orchid); Luck of the Irish and Welcome Home Jenny Sutter (Next); Hank Williams: Lost Highway (American Blues Theatre); Barnum and The Christmas Schooner (Mercury) and Around The World In Eighty Days (Lookingglass). They have received many nominations and awards for their design work. Jacqueline is an Associate Professor in the Theatre Department at Columbia College Chicago. Richard runs the technical theatre program for New Trier High School.
Chicago: The Mystery of Love and Sex (Writers), Electra (Court), The Firebirds Take the Field (Rivendell). Regional: Angels in America Parts 1 and 2, Peter and the Starcatcher and many more (Actor’s Theatre of Louisville); five seasons of the Humana Festival including Evocation to Visible Appearance, Airness, The Grown-Up, and The Roommate; NSFW (Roundhouse); Silent Sky, Triangle, Upright Grand (TheatreWorks); Fly by Night, Medea, School for Wives (Dallas Theater Center); The Who and the What (Kansas City Rep); Daddy Long Legs (New York, regional and international premieres); Another Way Home (The Magic Theatre); and Caravan Man, Demon Dreams (Williamstown Theatre Festival). Broadway: The Story of My Life. Off-Broadway: The Judy Show (DR2), Saturn Nights (Incubator Arts Project), Electra in a One Piece and The Realm (The Wild Project), The Redheaded Man (Fringe Encores) and many more. www.paultoben.com.
Rick has composed and designed sound for numerous Chicago-area theaters, including Steppenwolf, Lookingglass, Northlight, Congo Square, Writers, Lifeline, Griffin, Chicago Children’s Theatre, Court, American Blues, Victory Gardens and Steep. Regional credits include Arena Stage and Roundhouse Theatre in Washington D.C., Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, South Coast Rep in Southern California, The Getty, Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia, 2nd Stage and Playwrights Horizons in New York City, Actors Theatre of Louisville and Portland Playhouse. He is an artistic associate of Lookingglass, an artistic affiliate with American Blues and is currently composing music for The Thanksgiving Play at 2nd Stage Theatre on Broadway. Sims won a Jeff Award for sound design for Lookingglass’ Moby Dick, Frankenstein, and Hepheastus, and a BTA award for Congo Squares Brothers In the Dust. Sims also wrote the book, music and lyrics for Lookingglass Hillbilly Antigone.
Kimberly Ann McCann
Kimberly is excited to be returning to Northlight Theatre. Her Northlight credits include Book of Will, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, You Can’t Take it With You and Civil War Christmas. Chicago credits: Having Our Say, A View from the Bridge, Objects in the Mirror, Gloria, and Wonderful Town (Goodman) and Million Dollar Quartet. Broadway: Curtains. Off-Broadway credits: Bill W. and Dr. Bob, How to Save the World, John Ferguson. Regional: Tuacahn Center for the Arts, Skylight Music Theatre, and Milwaukee Rep. Other credits include Illinois Shakespeare Festival, Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and numerous productions at The Juilliard School. Kimberly is a proud member of Actors Equity.
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