In SpeakEasy Stage Company’s “Shakespeare In Love”—being performed at the Boston Center for the Arts Calderwood Pavilion from Jan. 12 to Feb. 10—George Olesky is the actor cast to play the great Will Shakespeare.
“At first it was overwhelming. ‘God, do I read four biographies of this guy?” Olesky recalls.
Then perhaps the New York-based, Newton native got a wee bit too comfortable. “When I was first around this, I’m like, ‘I am this guy. I get what he’s going through.’ Sure he’s a heavyweight of the Western canon, but I get where he’s coming from. He’s sort of this tormented artist, but he has a sense of humor about being a tormented artist.”
In the end, Olesky landed on a mix of study and invention. “Research helps and knowing what is the social environment and what is the economic environment,” he says. “It helps you get into the feel of the play. There’s only so much we know about him. So you have a lot of freedom.”
SpeakEasy Stage’s production (directed by Scott Edmiston) is billed as the New England premiere of Lee Hall’s stage adaptation of the Academy Award-winning 1998 film written by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard. This screwball, “romantic comedy of errors” draws on mistaken identities and other Shakespearean tropes to invent a tale of a young Will Shakespeare overcoming writer’s block by falling in love with Viola, a noblewoman who has disguised herself as a boy to appear in one of his shows.
“It’s adapted so smoothly to the stage. It’s much more about the making of the play and the making of a genius,” Olesky says. “It deals with the love of the theater and the play. It’s about the camaraderie of a group of theater makers, working-class people and the obstacles, what goes into making art as a team, and Shakespeare himself.”
The original “Shakespeare in Love” movie—about Shakespeare’s romance with Viola, a woman seeking social equality in 16th century London—was produced by Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax. This production of the play now arrives in the #MeToo moment.
“Viola and Will have these sort of parallel lives. He believes theater can be more truthful. And he believes in his ability. He just doesn’t know how to get there,” Olesky says. “For Viola, nothing ever will be truthful until women are up on the stage.”
“There’s a place for her to find freedom,” he says. “Viola can’t have freedom in her material world. Her marriage is decided for her. There’s nothing that she can do. But she finds freedom in art. … There’s this space for her to fully live and ultimately find love.”