This play about the plight of artists in England during the Inter-Regnum when acting was illegal is a spy thriller as well as a reflection of current artist challenges in modern society.
When I read that Roundheads punished actors by imprisonment or banishment or mutilation, I wondered if I would've had the strength to tell stories during the Puritan regime in abandoned barns, churches, and bars.
Guillotine Theatre in D.C. read the work last spring, but in order to fully develop the movement and pacing of the piece, the play requires a fully staged production.
I still need to develop a few minor characters. Is anything ever really finished?
I'd also like to further research the theatrical form of the droll that developed during that time period and that research requires international travel.
In February 1649, in a tavern in a small village in the middle of England, an illegal troop of traveling actors prepare for an presentation of a droll, an abbreviated version of an existing play and a genre that developed during the Interregnum. In 1646, Parliament had passed a decree that outlawed the staging of plays and was imprisoning or deporting offenders. Still, theatre continued in a guerilla fashion throughout the countryside.
To protect their identities, the traveling actors disguise themselves as three of the mechanicals from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Enclosed in The Mad Wooing droll that they perform (with text pulled from an actual droll) is a coded message to exiled poet laureate, Sir William D’Avenant, who claimed to be the illegitimate son of Shakespeare and the Dark Lady of his sonnets. Shakespeare’s eldest daughter, Susanna Shakespeare Hall, and granddaughter, Elizabeth Hall Nash, watch the illicit droll performance that the Roundheads interrupt. Hiding from the soldiers, the characters discover a Puritan spy and wrestle with the dilemma of killing him in self-defense, similar to Hamlet’s quandary of freeze or fight.
Paralleling the difficulty for modern artists to exist in the present economy and the impact of the religious right on government, The Mad Wooing is both a period play and a metaphor for the current conditions for many American actors and playwrights.
One set: interior of the Sign of the Bear tavern, Tiddington, England, 1649
Running time: first act is an hour and the second is forty minutes
Production history: not fully produced but the Dramatist Guild hosted a reading as part of Baltimore Footlights Series, March 2014 and Guillotine Theatre and Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association staged a reading at the Athenaeum in Alexandria, Virginia, April 2015.
Characters (six men, two women):
· Simon Gordon, 50s, tapster, based on an early Shakespearean biographer
· Peter Since, 40s, manager of acting troupe, child apprentice with Lord Chamberlain’s Men
· Francis Lute, 20s, Roundhead spy, thief turned actor
· Nick Noggin, 30s, pompous and daft actor, cousin to Anne Hathaway
· Susanna Shakespeare Hall, 66, widowed, Shakespeare’s daughter, in her death year
· Elizabeth Hall Nash, 41, widowed, Susanna’s only daughter
· Sir William D’Avenant 43, England’s poet Laureate, Cavalier spy
· Sir John Bernard, late 40s, widower, landed gentry, married to Elizabeth in 1649