From the beginning of the show to the end, Theatre Fairfield’s performance of “Authenticity,” written by John Morogiello and directed by Jackob Hofmann, had the audience completely invested, gripping to the edge of their seats. The intricate blending of past and present, exciting sword-fighting sequences, realistic parent-daughter relationships and some clever references to literature gave the play a breath of life. It was performed December 5 at 8p.m. and December 7 and 8 at 2 p.m at the Lawrence A. Wien Experimental Theatre.
The story follows two different plots interwoven together. It starts in present day Suffolk, England where disgraced Shakespeare historian Kristen Webber (Bronwyn Cullen ‘23) and her estranged 18-year-old daughter Maggie Griffiths (Emily Ramsey ‘20) are commissioned by mysterious Englishmen, John Henslowe (Declan Quigley ‘22), to prove the authenticity of a journal found in his ancestral manor. The journal being key to if William Shakespeare (Paul Bova ‘20) actually wrote his first tragedy “Titus Andronicus.” The play proceeds to go back and forth between the present and London in the 1600s, where playwright George Peele (Park Lytle ‘21) is struggling to make ends meet with his daughter, Alice Peele (Kiersten Bjork ‘21). Since George’s health is failing, Alice takes it upon herself to write his next play so the Peeles can make money from Elizabethan theatrical entrepreneur, Philip Henslowe (Jack Esposito ‘21). However, when a young Will Shakespeare discovers that Alice is illegally writing for George, things between the two grow heated.
What was interesting about this performance was that it was a staged reading. Actors had their scripts in front of them, and Martha Hegley ‘20 read stage directions. I had never been to a staged reading before, and, although it somewhat detracted from my immersion into the play, it also gave the play an intimate, personal quality to it.
Just because it was a staged reading did not mean the quality of acting was sacrificed. Three cast members, Bronwyn Cullen, Jack Esposito and Paul Bova, were new cast members to the Theatre Fairfield team. The back and forth between Cullen and Ramsay as mother and daughter was raw and realistic. Their relationship beautifully paired with Bjork and Lytle’s onstage complex father-daughter relationship. Bova played an excitingly evil Shakespeare which mirrored Quigley’s subtle malice. Even Lytle’s George Peele, who was often comic relief, was done with such complexity that I found myself both rooting for and against him. By the end of the play, I felt emotionally connected to the characters, especially Bjork as Alice Peele.
The sword fighting was done in a super interesting way. Instead of having the actors fight each other, both participants faced the audience. It took a bit of time to get used to it, but it allowed the audience to appreciate the choreography and musicality of sword fighting.
Some of my favorite parts of the play were the small moments: the way both Ramsay looked at Cullen with misguided resentment, and the way she looked back with guilt and regret. I loved how Quigley’s character, John Henslowe, shifted from likable character to one that felt uncomfortable and predatory. Seeing the way Lytle shifted from a goofy character that was a nuisance to his daughter to a person losing himself as his daughter tried to pick up the pieces was heartbreaking. Watching Bjork as Alice Peele see her life fall apart as her father, Philip Henslowe and Shakespeare destroy it for her, and then seeing her succeed in the end made the audience feel victorious.
All in all, “Authenticity” was an absolute joy to watch. It mixed mystery with suspense, humor and revenge in a fantastically compelling way.