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Round House asks what if Shakespeare’s works were lost?

BOW 72 copy Book of WillTodd Scofield (center) and cast members in Round House’s production of “The Book of Will.” COURTESY PHOTOIn the past, actor Todd Scofield has inhabited many roles in local and regional theater as well as on television, but these days he’s playing a character who shares one of his conflicts – how to balance the demands of family and a beloved profession.

A couple of differences between him and John Heminges – the character he portrays in the Round House Theatre’s current production “The Book of Will,” – are that Heminges lived in the 1600s and had 13 children, compared to Scofield’s paltry two.

Heminges was both an actor in the King’s Players (the acting company for which William Shakespeare wrote) and also with Henry Condell worked as an editor of the First Folio, the 1623 edition of The Bard’s collected works.

The play explores what might have happened had the two actors not been so proactive.

Scofield shares Heminges’s literary love; so far, he has appeared in 23 of Shakespeare’s plays in some separate 35 productions.

“One of my goals as an actor, my bucket list, you could say, is to do every one of his plays,” Scofield said.

In “The Book of Will,” the actor brushes against this goal. Playwright Lauren Gunderson makes references to many of Shakespeare’s works, at least by title, and quotes several.

While at this time of year some theaters present holiday fare or lighthearted musicals, Round House artistic director Ryan Rilette said the play fulfills many of the professional theater’s goals.

It ties together classical themes and a contemporary playwright, who for the third year in a row has the distinction of being the most widely produced dramatist in the country (according to American Theatre publication).

But Round House’s production of “The Book of Will” is only the fourth one in the world, according to Rilette, who is directing the production.

Gunderson authored “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” a comic sequel to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” which had a highly successful run last season at Round House.

“We were looking for something family-friendly and funny, but that also gives audiences something to chew on, something that evokes emotion and isn’t pure fluff,” said Rilette. “‘The Book of Will’ is super-funny, and everyone of any age can come, even if their background of Shakespeare is only rudimentary.”

So as not to lose the audience, Gunderson blends old-fashioned syntax with contemporary words and phrases.

“The language has a flavor that gives some age and flourish to the modern English,” said Scofield.

On the other hand, while a literary work, the play is also a “piece of history, a fascinating real story,” in Rilette’s words.

The conflicts in “The Book of Will” (as in the real story) are not so much between the characters as “the difficulties Heminges and Cordell have in publishing the Folio,” Scofield.

The only exception may be that the printer – who is also interested in publishing Shakespeare’s works – is “someone the two actors don’t like,” he added.

“Obstacles” isn’t a word that comes to mind in putting together “The Book of Will,” according to Rilette. “You don’t have them with a phenomenal cast and design team,” he said.

One prop the director is particularly proud of is the printing press, which “produces” the exact size, type of folding, and hand stitching of the Folio pages.

For that Rilette thanks the Folger Theatre, which he called “an incredible resource and super-helpful.”

In the end, the play is not just about Shakespeare and the publication of plays that might have been lost to us if not for the dedication of two actors who worked with him, but also about legacy in general.

“Theater itself is ephemeral, only for long as actors and playwrights last,” Rilette said.

“The Book of Will” continues through Dec. 24 at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda. To order tickets, call 240-644-1100. For information, visit: www.roundhousetheatre.org

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