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‘Shakespeare in Love’ review: Performances worthy of the Bard

Andrew Murano and Katie Ferretti star in the

Andrew Murano and Katie Ferretti star in the Long Island premiere of "Shakespeare in Love." Photo Credit: Danielle Nigro

WHAT “Shakespeare in Love”

WHEN | WHERE Through March 4, Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St.

INFO $20-$35; 631-724-3700, smithtownpac.org

BOTTOM LINE Fine performances in this stage version of the 1998 Oscar winner.

The most produced play in America this season, according to American Theatre magazine, has never been seen on Broadway. Nor Off-Broadway, for that matter.

That would be “Shakespeare in Love,” the stage adaptation of the 1998 Oscar-winning film, now getting its Long Island premiere at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts. There could be any number of reasons for the lack of enthusiasm from Manhattan producers (the play’s tediously talky at times, and it’s long, even a bit longer than the movie). But director Kenneth J. Washington and a strong cast of 22 give the piece a fine production that anyone who loves theater — or the Bard — will find a perfectly entertaining way to spend 2 1⁄2 hours.

The plot, adapted by Lee Hall from the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, sticks close to the movie: Will, suffering a serious case of writer’s block, fights off two competing theater owners, both breathing down his neck for the comedy — “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter” — they’ve been promised. Into the mix comes Viola, who wants with every inch of her being to be an actress. That’s illegal in Elizabethan England, so she disguises herself as a man.

Andrew Murano steals the show as Will, a charming if befuddled young man who falls hard for Viola (a delightful Katie Ferretti in the role that won Gwyneth Paltrow an Oscar) the minute he sees her at a ball intended to announce her betrothal to the full-of-himself Lord Wessex (Mark Cahill). Other standout performances include Evan Donnellan as Kit Marlowe, Doug Vandewinckel and Michael Newman as the battling theater owners, Scott Hofer as the brutal money lender who mends his ways when offered a part, and Christine Boehm as the wry Queen Elizabeth I. They’re all caught up in typical Shakespearean pageantry (though the music occasionally drowns out the actors), reveling especially in the swashbuckling swordplay that takes place all over Timothy Golebiewski’s trilevel set.

The play borrows freely from the Bard’s canon. You’ll catch lines not only from “Romeo and Juliet” (we get the balcony and death scenes) but from “Macbeth,” “Hamlet,” “King Lear” to name a few, all foreshadowing — and not in a subtle way — the greatness to come from this famed playwright. And let us not forget that Viola becomes the leading lady of “Twelfth Night.”

“She will be my heroine for all time,” Will writes, his words now flowing freely. Whether fiction or fact, we can all be grateful for that.

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