What could be more romantic?

Ascension Community Theatre will open "Shakespeare in Love" on Valentine's Day.

"It's perfect timing," said director Lorna Culmone Bourgeois. "It's a play about love with the main character writing a play about love."

There will also be lots of slapstick, lots of climbing ladders in clunky boots and flowing dresses and lots of Shakespearean jokes as young William Shakespeare tries to break through his writer's block to pen what will become "Romeo and Juliet."

The story focuses on Viola, played by Jamie Trice. She wants to act, but it's 1593, and women are not allowed on stage.

That doesn't stop Viola. She's willing to disguise herself as a man to play a woman in a play written by a guy named Shakespeare.

Shakespeare, played by Tristian Sholar, has hit a mental block while writing his comedy, "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter."

Viola, dressed as a young man named Thomas Kent, auditions for Will. He's impressed, but she runs away, fearing he will discover she is a woman.

They meet again at a ball in Viola's home, where her wealthy father is celebrating her arranged engagement to Lord Wessex.

That's when they fall in love. And the action that follows fuels his play now titled "Romeo and Juliet."

"'Romeo and Juliet' is set about a hundred years before Shakespeare's time," Bourgeois said. "But that didn't matter. They would have just performed the story wearing whatever was the fashion of the day, and that's what they do in this play."

Kevin Harger plays Philip Henslowe, owner of the Rose Theatre, where Will is contracted to produce plays, and Richard Kemp plays Will's playwright rival, Christopher Marlowe.

But the key, yet understated, role in this play belongs to Sharonda Morris, who plays Viola's nurse, who personifies the conflict between Viola's dreams and obligations.

She's protective of Viola, constantly reminding her charge that the arranged marriage is inevitable. Yet at the same time, she loves Viola and wants her to pursue her dreams.

And the nurse watches as Viola's two worlds clash between the balconies framing the Shakesperian-style set on Ascension Community Theatre's stage.

"You'll see a lot of physical comedy, and you'll hear a lot of phrases that we consider Shakespeare that Will will pluck from everyday conversations and put into his play," Bourgeois said. "And you'll see how everything that happens to him in his relationship with Viola forms his play."

Bourgeois is staging the play with 17 actors, most of them cast in two parts. And in reverse of Shakespeare's era, she's cast women in some male roles.

"Sometimes there aren't enough male actors at auditions, so I think it's significant that we've cast women who are playing men who will play women in Shakespeare's play," Bourgeois said. "It's especially relevant in this day of gender bending."

'Shakespeare in Love'

An Ascension Community Theatre production

WHEN: Feb. 14-17, Feb. 21-24. Performances at 7 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.

WHERE: Ascension Community Theatre, 823 N. Felicity Ave., Gonzales

TICKETS/INFO: $15-25. (225) 647-1230, actgonzales.org


Follow Robin Miller on Twitter, @rmillerbr.