With Bill Cain’s “Equivocation,” Reno Little Theater presents a behind-the-scenes look at the life and work of William Shakespeare (Shagspeare, or simply Shag). Director and actress Chase McKenna explains in her notes how this historical drama “makes relevant connections between politics, religion, art, history, and family.” Although “Equivocation” aims toward a specific audience, with a hefty runtime of three hours and 15 minutes, it is an engaging historical piece, with a few liberties taken along the way.

It is 1606 in London, and Shag (Michael Peters) is commissioned to write a play for King James I (Brantly Compton). Under the direction of James’s advisor, Robert Cecil (Jon Lutz), the play is to celebrate the foiling of the infamous Gunpowder Plot. Realizing it as more propaganda than art, Shag is torn on how to present it in good faith and honesty. Embarking on some detective work, Shag discovers the conflict runs much deeper than simply how to write his play.

For a period piece, all the elements are there to depict the story as accurately as possible. The well-crafted set is reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, the costumes authentic, and the historical references are enough to make any history buff giddy. The script and actors’ deliveries, however, assume a distinctly modern tone. In fact, King James is the only character with an accent. But the modern dialogue was easy to reconcile within the historical context. I suspect preserving the language of the times would actually distance the audience from the material.

A compelling chemistry exists among the ensemble. Peters and Lutz, both veterans of the stage, command their characters with dignified refinement. Brantley Compton, Kirk Gardner, and Derek Miller take on multiple roles, giving each unique brushstrokes. McKenna’s Judith, often standing by quietly, is perhaps the most touching character of all. Together they bring a certain life to the stage that is essential for a work of this length and style.

The play’s lifeblood lies in its intersections of art, politics, and morality. Shag is a vulnerable man, at odds not just with the ruling class, but also his own daughter, providing for several poignant and humanizing moments. His work becomes a weapon as he and his actors realize they must “answer the question beneath the question” and “hold the mirror up” to those who wish to manipulate them. “Equivocation” is a long, deep haul, but those interested in the history and political climate of Shakespeare’s time, it will surely inspire.

If you go:

What: Equivocation

Where: Reno Little Theater, 147 E. Pueblo St.

When: Sept. 21 – Sept 24

By Owen Bryant