By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"Dabbie," played by Classical Acting co-founder and frequent lead actor Matthew Gray, stomps around in a junk-strewn room behind the Globe stage, calling Burbage a "lazy plonker" spoiled by success. Dabbs thinks just as poorly of "country bumpkin" William "Shakefart." He credits Christopher Marlowe with writing Hamlet and blasts Shakespeare for plagiarizing it. He has the original manuscript to prove it. It's around there somewhere, if only he could find it amid the detritus of prop crowns, spears and beer bottles.
Shakespeare's Keeper is a play only a drama prof could love, a bloated collection of obscure historical anecdotes strung together with dialogue plucked from Macbeth, Hamlet, Merry Wives of Windsor, Merchant of Venice and the rest. Along with actual stories about Burbage, Will Kemp and other period actors, Pickles works in fictional, and less interesting, ditties about the Dabbs character. Like how stealing a spoon got him blackballed from the company. That one's a pisser.
With a masterful English character actor such as Michael Gambon as Dabbs, this play might light up a stage. But Gray, too young and lumpish to make Dabbs anything more than annoying, never generates any sparks. He's just up there performing for himself, never establishing any strong connection with the audience. We never care about Dabbs--part actor's fault, part playwright's. Thrashing around the hexagonal stage (nicely dressed by designer Jennifer Owens and prop mistress Andrea Redmon), fake-laughing and fake-crying hour after hour, Gray's vanity starts to show. Certainly this actor would never be cast as Hamlet or Shylock--or any of the female Shakespearean characters whom Dabbs impersonates--anywhere else.
At last, Dabbs says the magic words: "All our revels now are ended." Could it be over? But no, Pickles relishes false endings, so there are still another 15 or 20 minutes and a long segment from Midsummer Night's Dream to go before Shakespeare's Keeper turns us loose. Honestly, it's a struggle to stay awake through it all. Suffering from insomnia? Buy a ticket. This is pure theatrical Ambien.