Circle of Will

by Jack Grapes & Bill Cakmis

“A bizarre metaphysical comedy about the lost years of William Shakespeare”

Winner of Theatre Critic Awards
for Best Comedy & Best Performance by an Actor

Michael Sheehan, On Stage Los Angeles

CIRCLE OF WILL is a great exercise in an existential examination of who we are and what we are doing and where we are going, which has been dealt with by a few great playwrights: Beckett, Ionesco, Pirandello…Circle of Will is a less cumbersome play than any of the aforementioned writers’ efforts, but it does bring up some issues and addresses them in a most amusing and entertaining way. Okay, a hilarious way. Way hilarious. I loved this show. The story bounds and leaps and leaps and bounds through time, some very interesting deeper thoughts emerge. A lot of scholarly thought has gone into this script and the business that every play encounters with every audience becomes problematic. What’s real? What’s fantasy? Where are we now? When are we going to get there? And, then? What then? Just go see this play.”

  • What is the Secret of The Circle of Will and why is it following you?
  • Who really wrote Shakespeare’s play?
  • Was Shakespeare’s “Dark Lady” really a labrador retreiver named Rex?
  • SEE! Hamlet as a young boy!
  • SEE! Lady Macbeth as a debutante!
  • SEE! King Lear as a single parent!

You’ll talk about the Circle of Will
but you won’t reveal its secret.

Melrose Theater, 1989

“If I had known that my life was going to be so funny, I’d have lived longer and written this play myself.”
— William Shakespeare

Globe Theater, Hollywood, 2010

Layers of Complexity” Lisa Segal, Stage and Screen Bulletin
“I saw Circle of Will when it premiered in 1989 and four more times when it was revived in 2010. It was worth waiting two decades to see it again. And again. And again. And again. That’s right, I saw the play four times. The play was everything I remembered it to be. This second time around allowed me to pay attention to all the elements, to notice how they were woven together and played off each other, and to recognize more of the questions the play addressed — questions one doesn’t have time to ponder if one doesn’t want to get left behind. That’s another reason to see it again, to better appreciate the layers of complexity. The comedy was just wonderful: Some of it nuanced, some of it broad, some of it tender, some of it deliciously silly — all done with impeccable timing. It was like hearing a complicated tune whistled right on the melody.

“Riotous! * Hilarious! * Ingenious!” B’nai B’rith Messenger
The most rewarding hour, and certainly the funniest, you’ll ever spend in the theatre, or for that matter, anywhere. Grapes is by turns an actor with impeccable comic timing, a riotous, hilarious, ingenious, genuinely jocular wag who has taken a chance at reinventing the funny bone. 

“Sensational!” Los Angeles Evening Outlook
This comic conundrum is an absurdist’s paradise that mixes illusion, reality, Shakespeare and Hollywood in a Cuisinart designed by Pirandello on laughing gas. The play is so much fun and filled with so many surprises. IF you love to laugh and think at the same time, you can’t have a better time in the theatre. Grapes and Cakmis were just sensational! 

“Irresistible!” Los Angeles Times
Grapes and Cakmis have us between their sneaky little fingers when the lights go up. This knockabout comedy that could have been written by Neil Simon becomes a wicked excursion (with an especially wicked twist) that moves from one brand of comedy to another. What pulls the audience merrily along are Grapes–dry and sweet-hearted–and Cakmis, hilariously self-important. The irresistible glimmer in Grapes’ eye tells us to take none of this too seriously. 

“A Gift!” San Francisco Chronicle
Circle of Will  is not just funny–very funny–it has a rattling aggressive edge to it–a thought-provoking quality which remains long after the immediate jocularity subsides. It is painfully funny and packed with subtle philosophical messages. It doesn’t just address the issue of Life/Art/Audience–what links and separates them–but is rendered in such a humane manner that the performance becomes the vehicle for an actual exchange of love between artist and audience. What a great gift! 

“A Spectacular Tour de Force” National Public Radio
Circle of Will  is a spectacular tour-de-force which races through vaudeville, heroic aspirations, and something called quantum theatre metaphysics” to arrive almost back where it started. Jack Grapes portrays a Shakespeare we’ve never seen before, an easy-going, somewhat naive young playwright struggling to appease his temperamental colleage Richard “Dirk” Burbage, played by Bill Cakmis, and he has to do so while observing the rules of classical theatre simultaneously. Circle of Will  takes an unusual and rather irreverent stance. It’s not only the characterizations in the play that are controversial, but also the fluidity of the piece and the flouting of our traditional ideas of drama. The play breaks our preconceived notions of theatre again and again until the audience is not really sure who’s acting and who’s watching. 

“A Certified Thought-Provoking Riot!” Jewish Journal
How do I review a play when I can reveal almost nothing about the plot? During the course of Circle of Will  I was buffeted back and forth between 16th and 20th centuries, seesawed between illusion and reality, out-Sleuthed,” out-Pirandelloed, and carried away on waves of sympathy and laughter. Circle of Will  is a certified thought-provoking riot in which Romeo falls in love with Cleopatra, Ophelia’s severed right hand is carried off on a platter, the actors must step around the dismembered body of King Henry the Fourth (parts I and II), and there is talk of taming the shrew in a tempest. This play is a piece of metaphysical insanity. Go and find out for yourself. You will be rewarded beyond measure. This is the cleverest original work I’ve seen in a long time. 

“A Bizarre Trip!” Simi Valley Enterprise
This bizarre trip through history-as-it-should-have-been is bull’s-eye accurate in pin-pointing the audience’s funnybone, which it thereafter tweaks unmercifully throughout the show. It nearly makes one wonder if too much laughter may be a health hazard. Grapes’ bumbling, good-natured Shakespeare, and Cakmis’ bantering Burbage draw us into the tale and lead us laughing throughout the play’s abundant twists and concolutions. Their smooth, odd-couple realtionship is a pleasure to behold. 

“A Triumph!” Los Angeles Magazine
In this very clever comedy, part of the fun are the surprising turns the production takes with very funny situations, and funny behavior, and even the most cautious skeptical theatregoer will probably fall prey to the play’s tricks and twists. ***** Excellent! 

“A Metaphysical Comedy!” Los Angeles Reader
This comedy has more to say about what’s going on, and what isn’t, than most serious” plays. It’s meant to be enjoyed on several levels at once, and it has several surprises in store for anyone willing to go along with the fun. 

“Goes Way Beyond Mere Entertainment!” Los Angeles Weekly
As a parody of what William Shakespeare’s life might have been like before his enlightenment, Will is an engaging and hilarious theatre experience. But author Jack Grapes goes way beyond mere entertainment, creating an intelligent piece of theatre which peers into the very foundations of drama itself. Will is a kind of mobius, and Grapes and Cakmis cleverly guide us along it, delivering their subject on a number of levels, making it, like much of the bard’s own work, doubly satisfying mixing entertainment and art into a delightful blend accessible to all. 

A Battle of Laughs!” Pat Taylor, Tulucan Times
A wildly creative and highly theatrical script, written by Bill Cakmis and Jack Grapes (who also stars here as the “befuddled Bard”), this comedy of errors is a barrel of laughs. With many characters represented in multiple mini roles, the play centers on William Shakespeare and the first celebrated Shakespearean actor, Richard Burbage, in the year 1610. Director Brian Herskowitz succeeds in keeping the manic pace and zany surprises flying at us, with riotously well-timed skill. An award winning play when it opened in 1986, garnering great reviews, the opening night audience I joined roared out loud repeatedly. Total insanity! Jack Grapes is great silly fun as the obstinate, volatile, world renowned playwright, fumbling through script changes. He wanders jovially through the audience, offering lively repartee and some hilarious verbal patter and ad-lib flirting, which offers some of the night’s most entertaining moments! A “tongue in cheek” play that really earns its laughs. Try to catch this one! I am sure that William S. is in heaven, getting a big kick out this maniacal production!

“Incredible!” — Joe Straw, Joe Straw #9 Blog
Circle of Will features a grand moment on stage that lifts us right out of our seats! Grapes as Shakespeare was good. Certainly not the picture of Shakespeare one would have imagined on a calendar. There are others in the cast and they delight in their ghostly appearances, with the actress playing several roles, mainly Lady Macbeth and Ophelia just incredible. Wow! Possibly one of the best performances I’ve seen this year.

“Larger that Life” — Deborah Klugman, LA Weekly
As Shakespeare, Grapes was likable, while Brigg’s Richard Burbage showcased his gift for larger-than-life burlesque.

From the Groundlings

Just mind blowing. The most amazing piece of theater ever! Memorable beyond memorable.
—Jan McGuire

It was one of the best theatre nights of my life! The depth of the truths and the dark humor was stunning.
—Adesh Kaur

EFFING BRILLIANT!…. BALLSY! …. HILLLLARIOUS!!! My glasses fogged from tears of laughter. Seriously, haven’t laughed that much in so long ­ ended up needing my asthma spray.
—Vicki Bjornson

Circle of Will was a wonderful experience. I haven’t stopped thinking about it. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. My sister who is an ardent Theater buff kept saying it was so original over and over. Your performance was truly amazing and compelling.
—Prudence Fenton

An insanely remarkable piece of work.
—David Strick

And what layers of emotional experience. I laughed and then, within minutes, was teary-eyed when Burbage spoke of his own private heartache.
—Merry Elkins

I’m in a whirling dervish of afterglow. You reached big and wide and far and took us all with you.
—Margie Goodspeed

Can’t remember liking a play more and think you need to take it to New York.
—Laura Moskovitz

I laughed sooooooooo much with pleasure in your play! What a brilliant, original&delightfully wicked piece of writing! All the actors including you give stellar performances. You really keep thinking about it after you leave the theater.
—Lisa Thayer

CIRCLE OF WILLwas one of the best theatre nights of my life, and I’ve seen some dern good theatre. All i can say is that I laughed so hard I wet my polka dot thong undies. I laughed so hard I think some of my cracked ribs got re-cracked again. All of the actors were amazing. I don’t know how you managed to create such an ensemble piece with everyone. I’m still laughing. . . . . o o o. My love for your amazing play and performance! (and love love love it, I do!), the depth of the truths and the dark humor was stunning. I’m still getting “ah ha” moments of clarity as the layers peel off. That beginning…. o, then that ending …. but it’s not the end…. and the death begins and “ends” it. And then we begin again. whew! I had the feeling even tho we all left the theater, the players were still up there rewinding life. I will see it again&again&again.
—Adesh Kaur

What a delightful show, so smart, zany, provocative and wildly creative! I noticed several teenagers in the audience and they laughed so much, even if they didn’t get all the Shakespearean references.
—Roz Levine

It was genius. The play was engaging out the gate, the relationships sincere, the comedy beats perfectly executed, and in my limited knowledge, (but tuned ears to comedy),, they burned with the continuing desire to hear more! The surprises that kept unfolding were incredible, the moments where you’d think as an audience, “Oh my goodness, I love the laughter they are sharing on stage together!” To me, it’s always most enjoyable to be in the journey as an audience member, to see the turns a play will take, to not hope for or know the answer, but be surprised by it. From the moment I walked out of the theatre after the show, and the twin eunuchs passed out the one-sheet, “Please take a seat, we’re about to begin.” I even took THAT seriously, thinking wow, there’s more! Bravo Jack, with a standing bravo (I’m standing while typing, if that works), :), I heard you were good, but boy oh boy you are a GENIUS.
—Susanna Spies

I was floored by the ideas expressed in Circle of Will. It’s so profound, and the fact that these ideas were communicated so clearly, is impressive. What you communicated in Circle of Will was superb, brilliant. The ideas were expressed almost effortlessly, or at least it seemed so.
—Adrian Bloom

What a wonderful experience. It felt so good to laugh, and I mean really laugh. The play was brilliant. My parents thought it was so funny and incredibly intelligent. It was an evening I will always remember and cherish.
—Susan Manders

The play was sublime! Will definitely see it again before end of the run. And you! So funny! Even my arch-critic husband, Fancher, thought it was brilliant.
—Alexis Fancher

Insanely remarkable piece of work. Worked on so many levels while being continually entertaining. Puts the audience through just enough of an empathy meat grinder to make the resolution a huge and incredibly smart circularity that also is an embarrassed recognition of your own complicity as an audience member. Takes theater of cruelty to a new level of personal absurdity and the play keeps changing as it goes in an unfolding dynamic that confounds expectations while maintaining a continuous humor and smartness feed throughout . It’s meta 4th-wall, and truly if I’d known you were this brilliant I would have been more respectful for a lot longer. This is a classic of story structure, turns the world as a stage notion inside out like some sort of clownish Mobius strip. You might even consider teaching writing someday.
—David Strick

WE FUCKING LOVED IT TO PIECES. It is brilliant!!!!!! Unbelievably sophisticated, clever, funny, thought-provoking, entertaining ­ in essence, the essence of you. Damn you’re good. My mom, who has literally been going to small theater in LA for half a century, can’t remember liking a play more and thinks you need to take it to New York. Gabriel says it’s the best plays he’s ever seen. David is in awe (and he always falls asleep during the first ten minutes of any play he sees, but not this one),. We’re telling the world to go and see it. Bravo, kudos, congrats ­ pure joy.
—Laura Moskovitz

Well, I woke up as blown away by it as I was last night. Apparently this is a permanent condition.
—David Strick

Jack, straight up: we loved the play. The themes of reality&illusion, dream-life&real-life, love&loss—all came through for me. I found the play funny, entertaining and thought provoking. We talked about it when we left the theater, on our walk home afterward, and again this morning. Your acting was right on, and Dirk is wonderful. All the performances are hammy in the right places and ring true at the moments when the veil is thin. I liked the writing, too. We both were reminded of Beckett. I thought Circle of Will was wonderful.
—Bill Forth

Oh Jack, I loved loved loved Circle of Will! It was a blast!!!! What a cornucopia of theatrical history! I haven’t stopped thinking about it. One must be a student of theater, I think, to understand just how brilliant the play is!!! Yes, yes , yes, I got it! It was such a mind-blower! Such an inspiration. It called up my knowledge of Shakespeare and Pirandello, Beckett, Pinter, Albee, and, and .. And what layers of emotional experience. I laughed and then, within minutes, was teary-eyed when Burbage spoke of his own private heartache. Even though it was written by a master, I imagine it to be supremely difficult to write such a piece. How can something be so complicated yet simple? I am still working on digesting all you put out there. And… not as an aside at all….. you were wonderful in it! It will always be memorable for me.
—Merry Elkins

Your theater evening was a delight. The marvelous theater room a past life experience…and of course the toboggan ride with Will, Rich and Ramona of Verona and Lady Macbeth and Julius Caesar and Prospero and Lady Prospero, yes I had just pressed my face into my program when you told me as audience member to forget looking at program for explanation…I mean like clock work. Jack!!… Did the multi-levels resonate ..was there an echo ?? Oh Yeah…very sad stuff..very “waiting” ..happy human despair …silly and sordid… And a teensy bit nerve-wracking… And one big trap..just like my life… So you have played that keyboard professor… Your faithful forever.
—Lucinda Jenney

Jack, I just wanted to congratulate you again on Circle of Will. I really enjoyed it and I’m telling everyone to catch the show. Daniele has always spoken glowingly about the play and cites it as one of the first experiences that really inspired her to want to explore theater – now I know exactly what she’s talking about. Congratulations as a Writer because the writing is wonderful, thought provoking, filled with great references and playful twists, and fully capable of taking the audience on a ride that you have carefully constructed (without the overt appearance of having done so),. And congratulations as an Actor!! Your performance was funny, engaging and utterly charming. Your charisma on stage is wonderful and disarming, and it makes the whole quantum metaphysical theater experience work. I honestly think the play would suffer if anyone else attempted the role. Robert Deniro? No thanks. Pacino? No way. Brando? Eh… he’d stomp on the jokes. Ed Harris? Too stiff. Anthony Hopkins? Not enough charm. Jack Grapes? Perfect. Thank you for sharing your play and your performance with everyone. Bravo!
—Semyon Kobialka

Can’t imagine being able to get something that huge into a 90 minute entertainment. But you did. My butt never felt the chair.
—Mia Sara

Circle of Will was a wonderful experience. I need to see it again. I‘m not even sure I absorbed even a quarter of it. I haven’t stopped thinking about it. It could be described as a Rocky Horror Picture Show of Existentialism in that I have to return and begin to memorize the parts. Everyone I brought really enjoyed it and my sister who is an ardent Theater buff kept saying it was so original over and over. I rarely see anything positive out of her, so that was a triumph. Your performance was truly amazing and compelling. So were all the women if you know what I mean. I will return and thank you for doing this.
—Prudence Fenton

Circle of Will was so great, truly a master class for all your students. It was a wormhole-ian Shakespearean pleasing mindfuck, smoothed over one’s mind like butter on a hot day. Just a good smearing time!
—Rebecca Velazquez

Hey Jack, the show was something else. Both cosmically insightful and loads of fun. Sometimes beyond me that I have to see it again! I was shocked to see how vulnerable you can act, your character seemed like a real person to me. And Dirk was melodramatically hilarious. It added to the fun when you asked me about #~@%%&*? lol and “Don’t look at your program.” I’m trying not to spill the beans here ;), I was also a bit star-struck to see George from Seinfeld in the audience or stage (?), Jack, I totally want my friends to have a chance to see Circle of Will. Two existential thumbs up.
—D Shama Rocha