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"Oxford’s Will" is a delightful thinking man’s comedy
Review by Alan Raeburn, Tempo, Glendale News-Press, May 30, 1992

A controversy since the 1890s in academic circles is whether William Shakespeare actually wrote the powerful plays and resonant love sonnets attributed to him.

Now, Los Angeles playwright, Jerry Fey, a UCLA playwriting instructor known for his play called "Blind Faith," lets his fertile imagination run with a few little known facts to conceive a new consideration in his comedy called "Oxford’s Will," now enjoying a very handsomely staged world premiere production at the cosy Colony Theatre in nearby Silver Lake.

Under noted director Jules Aaron’s spry direction, the literate piece soars joyfully.

Fey suggests Shakespeare received lots of inspirational collaboration from the erudite and worldly Edward DeVere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, premiere peer of Queen Elizabeth’s I’s Realm.

DeVere was a courtier and royally favored for his talents as poet, playwright, (although we have no record of what plays he may have written) as well as composer, soldier, diplomat and patron of actors and playwrights.

However, when the earl did not acquit himself in a war in the Netherlands, he was henceforth banished from court circles.

Will was wanted for poaching and being a debtor, the latter being a heinous crime in those days. Will’s father, an influential Stratford official on friendly terms with DeVere asked the sophisticated DeVere to take in his wayward son. The rakish bachelor, alone in his Hedingham Castle, needed someone to keep his sharp mind in creative shape. Taking in the impressionable Will, eager to be molded, offered the solution.

What a fun partnership Jerry Fey sees it to have been as the spirited duo verbally spar and tease each other, spontaneously acting out plots and dialogue at the drop of a quip.

How else, Fey asks, could a rustic fellow — with little or no education, no knowledge of life beyond the small Stratford, with absolutely no ties or knowledge about Court life and protocol — have possibly written those mighty dramas about historic monarchs involved in intricate plots, surrounded by powerful characters, and write about profound political dealings with their statements on human nature?

Fey illustrates how the older man regaled the aspiring playwright with tales of high diplomacy and low court scandals, of murder and philandering on a grand scale.

William, with little else to distract except the earls’s randy wench, soaks it all up, gleefully embracing the world of theater as his oyster.

Although Will is shown as the one holding the pen, DeVere is the one spouting the ideas and the words.

However, "Oxford’s Will" emphasizes the human needs of this unusual duo’s relationship. The script is all conjecture, of course, written with colorful Elizabethan charm, wit, poetic intelligence, gall and audacity. It’s also liberally seasoned with raunchy declarations and bawdy humor.

Multi award-winning veteran director Jules Aaron sees all is said and done in good taste with a cast that’s hard to top.

Of particular serendipitous delight is Colony’s producing director Barbara Beckley, a professional actress in her own right, making a rare Colony acting appearance as Henrietta Von Schlaffenberg, a widowed baroness. This former wild fling of DeVere’s suddenly turns up with an offer he at first denounces, then can’t refuse.

Barbara Beckley delivers a vibrant portrayal of a woman driven by sensual and survival instincts. She "travels like a well spent trollop," appearing in full Elizabethan splendor — tweaked eyebrows, rouged cheeks and ruby red lips. In reality, Henrietta is a self-confessed "slightly low class Londoner" and Beckley relishes every moment in her delicious performance.

The always-reliable Bonita Friedericy’s aggressively sexual know-it-all housemaid, Sylvia, oozes with free-spirited bawdiness and convivial joviality in a graphic, but poised performance.

Gil Johnson’s boyishly naive Will Shakespeare — a surprisingly somewhat second banana role, as written at least — is endearingly charming, with flashes of authoritativeness when demanded in Act II.

But it’s Charles Thomas Murphy as the hemorrhoidal-suffering earl, who is given most of the best lines, around whom everything revolves. On stage almost constantly, this charismatic thespian speaks his lines — poetic or sardonic, thoughtful or comical — with a flair for subtle nuance worthy of Vincent Price in his prime.

Despite these lighthearted divertissements, "Oxford’s Will" is a thinking-man’s comedy which, we warrant, will find popularity on both commercial and academic stages.

Copyright 1992 Glendale News-Press 
Reprinted with Permission
Oxford's Will at the Colony Theatre