WEST VALLEY CITY — It is a goal of mine this year to see shows I have not seen before. And yes, I know I have lived under a rock in that I missed the 1998 film “Shakespeare in Love” by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, which was then adapted into a stage play in 2014 by Lee Hall, first premiering in London on the West End . It made its way across the pond to the US in 2017 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Produced now by the West Valley Arts Center, directed by Kate Rufener, it was now time to correct this grave error in my cultural knowledge and experience this phenomenon.

The plot is a fictitious look into Shakespeare’s (played by Josh Egbert) writing of Romeo and Juliet and subsequent falling in love with the equally fictional Viola (played by Jillian Joy). This forbidden romance is plagued by an arranged marriage to Lord Wessex (played by Tyler Roberts), dueling theatre companies, the whims of the Queen (played by Sonia Inoa-Rosado Maughan), and completely heightened by a very much-loved dog, spot (played by Brucey Boy).

Admittedly, I don’t love a romance. So how is it I came out West Valley Arts’ Shakespeare in Love, well, in love? One of the greatest things about the theatre is a fantastic director who pulls together a great team and can bring about a vision that takes simple words on a page and then puts into motion something that is more than the sum of its parts.

Such is the experience of Rufener’s Shakespeare in Love. It is important to begin with the director’s note. Rufener poignantly points out that if she had lived in the time of Shakespeare, she would never be allowed to direct this show. The deep connection that then ensues to the character of Viola that Joy so wittingly brings to the stage, someone who just longs to be in a group of players, yet is denied such because of her gender, permeates the air with much more force considering the thoughtful direction of Rufener.

Jillian Joy as Viola and Josh Egbert as Shakespeare in WVA’s “Shakespeare in Love”. Show closes May 4.

The next element that is a stunning and unique part of this particular rendition is the lighting design by Colter Lincoln. As you enter the auditorium there is a rose illuminated in the lighting in the middle of the stage, which shows itself off and on throughout the production, in connection with the Rose Theatre that is integral to the story. There are also squiggles and shapes that seem to have no rhyme or reason, though a trained eye should know better. About five acts in I gasped in recognition, and at a pivotal moment in the second act, the lighting all connected and all was made known in beautiful and fantastic detail.

Costume designer Emma Stringham had the daunting task of recreating Elizabethan England, no small feat on its own, and yet in addition added extraordinary elements like color connections between Shakespeare and Viola, distinctions between the players and the upper class, and quick costume changes that were impressive. Adding to the visual spectacle was the scenic design by Jason Sullivan. Attention to detail with the theatre in the round was so well heeded that one might have believed they were actually at the Globe in London. The use of the turntable at key moments was inspired. Changing one of the tables around to become a ship, a stage, many other things was genius.

Adding music, directed by Anthony Buck, elevated this production to feel more like a classical Shakespearean fare worthy of any of the best festivals in the world. Each of these elements were combined with such flare and fashion by Rufener to create a show almost like a symphony, with Rufener as a conductor at the helm, that when you sprinkle in the players on top, they are yes, essential and important but almost like a delicious mix of spices rather than the main ingredients. As any good chef will tell you, one needs the main ingredients and the spices in correct proportions when creating the perfect dish, and Rufener has balanced the technical aspects with her cast to create the ideal show.

Along with Egbert and Joy in the main roles, Colton Ward does a superb job as Kit Marlowe, the historical playwright shrouded in mystery. Ward’s jovial portrayal of a Shakespearean contemporary and talent was endearing. Another standout was Eliyah Ghaeini as Ned Alleyn, the best of the best in the troupe of players. Anyone who spends any amount of time in the world of the theatre knows this type of actor, someone who is larger than life and knows they are larger than life. Also based on a historical figure, Ghaeini has taken this trope and given it the exact personification necessary for the essential characterization. Were I to write a novel about this production, I could point out how each and every player represented a perfect spice that added to the blend that balanced the evening into a success, with Brucey Boy being the best garnish.

Much like Rufener’s director’s note, history has not always been kind to female writers and female critics. I doubt I would have been commissioned to document the existence of a play at the time of the Bard, and yet here I am musing about the events in West Valley City. Indeed, as said in The Tempest, “We are such stuff as dreams are made of.” How excellent it is to witness Rufener’s recipe of the dream that is Shakespeare in Love.

Shakespeare in Love plays Wed-Sat April 17-20th at 7:30pm, Thurs-Sat April 25th-May 4th at 7:30pm, with Sat matinees at 3:00pm at the West Valley Performing Arts Center, 3333 S Decker Lake Dr, West Valley City, Ut 84119. Tickets are $18-25 dollars. For more information see https://www.wvcarts.org/

These reviews are made possible by a grant from the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts, and Parks program.