Widgets Magazine


‘Equivocation’ addresses government, theater and art in Trump’s America

I recently encountered a Facebook post describing a new provision that the Trump administration had put in place, another article to the AHCA impeding coverage for women who had received an epidural during childbirth. I read with the now familiar feeling that accompanies so much of my news intake – a quiet dread tinged with disbelief – until reaching the post’s final lines.  The new provision was fake, the post said at the very bottom, but the fact that the reader believed it reflected the absurdity of our contemporary political moment.  

The era of “fake news” has warped our cultural capacity to parse reality from fiction.  The digital age has shifted our sense of who gets to deliver news, and where and to whom; it has stripped us of the once-held confidence that the media always presents the full truth.  

“How could there be anything true about a play?” This line, from Bill Cain’s play “Equivocation,” makes me laugh.  Ironically, fiction so often speaks more truth than we accredit it, while what’s labeled “fact” may well be only reflect a sliver of the larger picture.  The Onion is funny because it mimics reality; Sean Spicer hiding in a bush to avoid the press is an Onion article come to life.  Television shows like “Game of Thrones,” which about warring families grasping at power through aggression and deceit, rise in popularity in an age when a nation’s people see their government led by a few powerful individuals who have not earned their trust. And didn’t “The Simpsons” predict Trump’s presidency 15 years before the media gave his presidency any credence?

“Equivocation” is a story about truth, media, power and art.  It follows Shagspeare (riffing on one of the many spellings of William Shakespeare’s name) as he is commissioned by King James’ official Robert Cecil to write a play on the monarchy-approved telling of the Gunpowder Plot. Shagspeare struggles to decide whether he should write a story he knows to be false, thereby solidifying ideas of Catholics as religious terrorists, or risk treason against the Crown in pursuit of the truth.  

The characters in “Equivocation” are acutely aware of the power that fiction has on an audience and the power of the playwright to define a narrative.  They recognize that putting anything on a stage is a political act, and they feel the weight of that responsibility.  While the government asserts its own narrative, the artists question and engage until they find a narrative worthy of defending – a true narrative.  

What can be true about a play?  Plays can ring true in their emotion, in their powerful portrayals of humans at their best and worse.  “Equivocation” includes family drama, duels and even witches, while depicting a power-hungry politician manipulating the media to secure his role and his boss’ reign, and the artists working to tell only the best and right story. This play rings true with its hauntingly familiar characters and power structure – and, throughout the process, with the struggle of artists to portray truth against all odds.   

Equivocation” runs May 18-20 at 8 p.m. in the Nitery Theater.

– Zoë Sonnenberg ’18



Contact Zoë Sonnenberg at zoes ‘at’ stanford.edu.