Shakespeare faced with dilemma: To die or lie, that is the question
Next Act’s ‘Equivocation’ revolves around King James I, Gunpowder Plot

By JULIE McHALE - Post Theater Critic

Feb. 15, 2018

From left, T. Stacy Hicks, Eva Nimmer, Jonathan Smoots, Josh Krause, David Cecsarini and Mark Ulrich in Next Act’s “Equivocations.”
Photo credit: Ross Zentner

Lying is a common human behavior. It begins when we’re very young and we use it to escape punishment or loss of privileges.

We have fashioned many names for it, which is always true when we are uncomfortable with a phenomenon. We can call it fudging, telling a white lie, fibbing, stretching the truth or prevarication or equivocation, fancier words for it.

Politicians seem to be the masters of it, no matter what name you give it - fake news or alternative facts anyone?

Next Act’s present offering, an almost-three-hour production that flies by, is tantalizing for its complexity, its intrigue and its masterful acting. Also for its relevance in today’s corrupt and cowardly political climate. No wonder PolitiFact is kept so busy.

Set in William Shakespeare’s time, when this prolific playwright had already established himself as a smashing success, many times being paid by the reigning king or queen to produce a play for their entertainment, he was approached by Robert Cecil, secretary of state to Queen Elizabeth and right-hand man to her successor, King James I. He requested a play about the Gunpowder Plot, a scheme to blow up the king, Parliament and anyone else who happened to be occupying the surrounding area. He wanted the king and his cronies to look squeaky clean despite their machinations.

“Equivocation” turns out to be a play about artistic integrity despite possible consequences, about compromising one’s conscience to gain profit. Shakespeare and his company are torn between pleasing the king or compromising the historical facts. As The Bard put it, “Die or Lie.”

Four of the six actors perform multiple roles, all except Mark Ulrich (Shakespeare) and Eva Nimmer (Judith, Shakespeare’s daughter). There is a subplot regarding this father-daughter relationship, which also sparks our interest. It is not that well-known that Shakespeare lost a son to the plague, and afterwards treated his son’s twin, Judith, poorly, because he did not deem her as worthy of his attention and affection as his son had been. Little-known personal tidbits are always fun to learn of.

The gunpowder plotters were caught before they were able to carry out their scheme, along with an innocent Jesuit priest, Father Garnet, who was falsely accused and killed. Jonathan Smoots was stellar in this role, by the way. The method of execution in those days was ruthless and bereft of all humanity. Hard to believe sometimes, man’s capacity for cruelty.

Eventually, Shakespeare was able to please the king as well as be true to himself. I guess he learned the art of equivocation. He even redeemed his father role with Judith, a touching scene.

The cast of master actors includes David Cecsarini, who aptly played the ambitious, slimy Cecil; Josh Krause, who was especially impressive in his role as prisoner Wintour; and T. Stacy Hicks, who shone as Prosecutor Edward Coke. Eva  Nimmer had an interesting role to play as the cooperative, neglected daughter with a sharp critical mind, who dared to critique her father’s “masterpieces.” And, of course, Ulrich, always good, was good again.

This drama certainly challenges our own use of equivocation and our motives for compromising truth. (If you never use it, you’re lying.)

As usual, Next Act offers us another rich, substantive script, written by Jesuit Bill Cain, and beautifully directed by Michael Cotey. Long live Next Act.



The play runs through Feb. 25 at Next Act Theatre, 255 S. Water St., Milwaukee.
Call 414-278-0765 or visit