In the 25 years that the Ojai Playwright’s Conference has been supporting new works, author Bill Cain has developed nine plays through the program, making him the most-produced playwright the OPC has hosted during its quarter century.
This year’s new play, God’s Spies, is one in a series of plays Cain has written about Shakespeare. “I wrote a play about Shakespeare writing Macbeth, I wrote another play fundamentally about Hamlet, and this one is about the fact that Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine during the plague of 1603,” says Cain. This idea came to Cain during his own experience with quarantine during the Covid pandemic. In God’s Spies, Shakespeare is trapped in a “bawdy house” with a prostitute and a Puritan lawyer when everything in London is barred shut to keep the plague contained.
In the play, Shakespeare is smarting from the less-than-successful run of his most recent work, Timon of Athens. “What the play is about,” says Cain, “is after you’ve written Hamlet, what is there left to write? After you’ve written the best play in the history of the world, how do you top that? … He gets locked up in my version of it with a couple of very common people, and the experience with them opens him to the reality that becomes the play King Lear.”
“Lear is my favorite play,” says Cain. “I think Lear is one of the greatest artifacts that any human being ever created.” The exploration of God’s Spies is how Shakespeare got from Hamlet, which Cain describes as a very “heady” experience, to King Lear, which he describes as an experience that affects the whole body. “My goal in writing is to show people their own greatness that is hidden from them. That’s what I always hope, that people will see that part of themselves in which greatness resides that is unrecognized.”