The Book of Will

Falls Theatre, Wappingers Falls

My partner and I have very different opinions about this play, and I think I know why.

By Andrew Andrews

Michael Frohnhoefer and Robert Yarnall star in County Players’ production of Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will, directed by Andrew Karl. Original photos by Louisa Vilardi Photography.

Three years after the death of William Shakespeare, his fellow actors lament that theatre is devolving into a caricature of its former self. Young, untalented men perform poorly-pirated copies of the Bard’s plays, and unscrupulous printers publish lackluster titles under the master’s name, claiming ignorance when their authenticity is challenged.

When Richard Burbage of Shakespeare’s company (The Kings Men) suddenly dies, the two remaining members John Heminges and Henry Condell worry that the Bard’s true bibliography will be lost to history… so Henry convinces John that they must collect all the legitimate scripts they can find, edit the works as accurately as possible, and publish them as Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies—better known today as The First Folio.

The cast and crew includes Rosemary Evaul (costumes), Frohnhoefer, Michele George, Julie Seltzer, Donna Conway (costumes), Yarnall, Macy McKnight, Kevin Barnes (lights), Karl, Douglas Woolley, Connie E. Boden (costumes), Kevin McCarthy, Sr., Kevin McCarthy, Jr., Declan McCarthy and David Ringwood.

It seems like forever since we attended County Players’ five-star production of Native Gardens in early July, and I was eager to find out whether their current offering would reach the new high bar that they set with that performance.

Wrapping nuggets of historically-accurate information in a fictional narrative, playwright Lauren Gunderson has clearly conducted and organized tremendous research in preparing this story, although her portrayal of the actors’ wives and daughters as driving forces behind the effort are conjecture that seems unlikely for its time.

As usual, County Players delivers the Hudson Valley’s best value in theatre with this production, donning gorgeous costumes on a simple but handsome set depicting the tavern where most of the action takes place—although I do wish the design provided greater distinction to the few scenes beyond the tavern’s walls.

In general, the actors’ performance exceeds what I expect at this price point, skillfully delivering the script full of subtle, witty lines (such as “there’s no such thing as a business that’s non-profit” and “not everyone doing good work gets applause”).

As with Gunderson’s I and You, my partner enjoyed this story a lot more than I did, awarding it two more stars than I will here. Perhaps that’s due to a soft spot for historical fiction, but I suspect that Gunderson’s style just has greater appeal to some theatergoers than others. For me, The Book of Will is a little slow at times and lacked enough real tension to keep me hooked, but I can’t figure out whether the playwright alone is to blame, or shares that responsibility with the director of this particular production.

Mind you, that’s not to suggest that I didn’t enjoy this performance! I certainly did, just not nearly as much as the last time I attended a show at the Falls Theatre.

Andrew Andrews attended The Book of Will at Falls Theatre in Wappingers Falls on Friday, September 9, 2022 @ 8:00pm to write this review.