"Three times to-day my foot-cloth horse did stumble,
And startled, when he look'd upon the Tower,
As loath to bear me to the slaughter-house." –Lord Hastings, in Richard III Credit: Michael Brosilow

What we’ve got here is a sophisticated goof composed, apparently, for the delight of English majors and history buffs. Bill Cain’s buoyant script concerns a playwright who’s called “Shagspeare” (“Shag” to his friends) but can be none other than the Bard of Avon. It’s 1605; King James is on the English throne, attended by his court fixer, Robert Cecil, whom Shake—er, Shagspeare used as the model for that great villain Richard III. Cecil’s annoyance over being caricatured may be one reason why he gives Shag a problematic commission: to write a play about the Gunpowder Plot, the attempt to blow up Parliament that had only just been foiled.

Cain takes some stabs at creating drama and character, but the main fun is following him through his revisionist version of history, catching his many, many Shakespearian references, and hearing Shag talk shop with the likes of fellow Renaissance legend Richard Burbage. Well, maybe not the main fun. That would be watching Sean Graney‘s exceeding sharp cast, led by Marc Grapey as the hangdog, put-upon, but canny Shag. (The play’s title hints at how he deals with politically dangerous situations.) And though he sometimes sounds more like Spain’s King Ferdinand than the Scottish James, Arturo Soria puts on a wonderfully flamboyant show of his own in the role of the king.