Heart of the Forest Renaissance Faire

Play Acting: Revelers come garbed for garble at the Ren Faire.

Play Dirty

Ren Faire stages come alive with some off-color comedies

By David Templeton

‘Gather in, gather in! The filthiness is about to begin!”

So shout the mirthful members of the Los Angeles-based comedy trio Sound & Fury as they launch a 20-minute performance of their filthy-as-advertised pseudo-Shakespearean traveling show Testacles and Ye Sack of Rome, now playing at the Heart of the Forest Renaissance Faire in Novato. This year, the fair boasts over two dozen different stage shows, featuring performances of everything from Renaissance musical reviews to action-packed jousts to one-man juggling acts to sugar-sweet children’s plays to spirited puppet shows, historical pageants and comedic “fakespearean” farces. On opening weekend, Sound & Fury–an increasingly popular troupe that formed in 1998 at the Southern California Renaissance Faire–had the best (and best attended) shows of the bunch.

Those searching for something more family-friendly might wish to try Stark Raven’s fractured fairy tale Dumlin and the Magic Goose (at the Lydian Grove Theatre), Ye Olde Tale of Goode King Arthur (on the Oak Bough Stage) or the always-entertaining and happily violent Punch and Judy show (at the Piccolo Puppet Players Theatre). Dumlin is the story of a not-so-bright boy in search of love and fortune, and in addition to the show’s good-natured attitude and clever audience-participation ploys, it also features the line, “There’s a lot of resistance on my duck today” (don’t ask), which is enough to recommend it right there. The King Arthur show turns out to be a nearly word-for-word presentation of a goofy, all-rhyming bit from the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s BBC radio show, cleaned up a bit here for sensitive ears.

Thankfully, no such censorship measures are taken by Sound & Fury, who pack their hilariously slapstick shows with off-color, pun-heavy narration (“The voyage was long and hard, but they had Philatio with them to soften the blow”) and giddily crude one-liners (“Did you hear about the man with five penises? His pants fit him like a glove”). When one character assaults another, he says, “My weapon in my hand I’ll take, and beat you off for goodness sake.”

On a recent Saturday, the narrator caused several audience members to squirt beer through their noses when he announced, “Testacles comes with Scrotus, the wrinkled family retainer.” Though not strictly Elizabethan, such raunchy jesting still bears thundering echoes of Shakespeare’s own work, which was frequently augmented with coarse and bawdy tomfoolery.

Is it a bit juvenile? Certainly.

Is it entertaining? You bet.

A bit less polished, but in the same vein, is Marlowe’s Shadowe, another Southern California troupe with a decided taste for tastelessness. I witnessed two Marlowe’s Shadowe productions. Pyramus and Thisbe, for which the audience is given radishes to throw at the actors, is a deliberately awful adaptation of the crowd-pleasing play-within-a-play from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s the kind of thing in which everyone cross-dresses at least once, the word “devoured” keeps being replaced by the word “deflowered” and where people have such exchanges as this: “I thought I was the straight man in this show.” “Not in that dress you aren’t.”

The other Marlowe’s Shadow show was The Top Five Tragedies of William Shakespeare. Both are funny and reminiscent of the Reduced Shakespeare Company (which had its start at the Renaissance Faire), but the better of the two, at least on the day I saw them, was The Top Five Tragedies. Those who want their Ren Faire shows to be anachronism-free might want to avoid this one, as it squeezes in a lot of reasonably witty references to such non-15th-century things as The Wizard of Oz, The Muppet Show, Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, Star Wars and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The energetic trio (two males, one female) start the show off with Titus Andronicus, complete with lopped-off hands, severed tongues and human-head pies, and segue into a playfully gory Macbeth, in which the lead character’s spleen, or something horrifically spleenlike, is unceremoniously plucked out. Julius Caesar is done as an a cappella rock opera called Julius Caesar Superstar; Romeo and Juliet is crammed with deconstructive remarks (“What could possibly go wrong?”); and Hamlet gets the Dick and Jane treatment: “See Hamlet. See Hamlet run. Run Hamlet, run!”

Even Shakespeare might have to squirt beer through his nose with that one.

The Heart of the Forest Renaissance Faire runs Saturday-Sunday, 11am to 7pm, through Aug. 14. Stafford Lake Park, Novato. $8-$17. 800.510.1558.

From the June 29-July 5, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© 2005 Metro Publishing Inc.

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