Summer Stage

Bard Binge

By Gretchen Giles

One of the dicey moments of last summer was having to drag my two small sons sobbing from Ives Park after dark. They were crying–nay, weeping–because it was cold and late and their bad damn mommy was making them leave the park before the sword fight.

They were crying over Hamlet. It gives a mother hope.

And while nothing may be rotten in Denmark this year, there will still be plenty to cry about. Make those tears of joy, because the lazy stretch of days into nights means picnics-and-pass-the-salt Shakespeare.

It seems that those of us who can’t stop squirming with nightmarish high school flashbacks when Will was served up straight just can’t seem to get enough of the guy when he’s mixed in with a little sultry night air, a nice picnic, some wine, and a bit of hand holding under the stars. And make it a comedy, please.

Which is almost exactly what local companies are doing, as summer Shakespeare swings onto the lawns, wineries, and parks of Sonoma County.

Kate Kennedy’s Avalon Players mark 16 years of summer Shakespeare with Much Ado About Nothing (beginning July 5). Kennedy–who uses a lack of available actors to her advantage by gender-bending to suit her devilish sense of humor, encouraging a certain amount of improv in her performers–chose this broad Messina love story because “it’s very light and airy.”

“It won’t be traditional,” she promises about her production at the Buena Vista Winery, “but we do discipline ourselves with the text. After that,” she chuckles, ‘I can’t control whose food they eat or wine they drink.”

Carl Hamilton, who runs the repertory-styled Sonoma Valley Shakespeare Festival at the Gundlach-Bundschu Winery, is opting for something different this year. He’s doing works only by the Bard. In previous years, Hamilton’s tried two Shakespeares and one musical or two Shakespeares and one modern comedy, trying to find a formula that added up. It turned out to be a subtraction problem. Audiences came flocking to the Shakespeare and stayed away from the others, so he’s subtracting the non-Elizabethan works from his play list. “That’s what people want,” he says simply. “Especially at this season.”

Hamilton’s choices for his fifth year of shows include the Merry Wives of Windsor (beginning June 15), As You Like It (June 28), and Romeo and Juliet (July 12). Wives will be set in the rough and tumble of the gold rush days, with local musician Jim Corbett penning “The Ballad of John Falstaff” to gravely accompany the piece. As You Like It has a commedia dell’arte tone, and Romeo and Juliet features a fantasy aspect, with actors dressed severely in black, throwing on costumes as set pieces to transform themselves. “We do Shakespeare in a very simple, stylized way,” Hamilton emphasizes.

The Valley of the Moon Shakespeare Company finds Ursuline High School drama instructor Eric Thompson–who was brilliant last year as a midsummer Puck–directing The Tempest (beginning Aug. 3) out among the oaks of Dunbar Elementary School. Kathleen Mason of VOM reports that Thompson is using an elemental approach to the piece, seeing Prospero as fire, Ariel as air, Caliban as earth, and Miranda as water–and directing his actors with that intelligence in mind. Thompson also reportedly plans to utilize the theme of colonialism in this rich play, highlighting the primal character of Caliban. And look for this fine actor to appear as Trinculo.

The storm in the teacup this summer is that Sebastopol’s Main Street Theatre will also produce The Tempest when it convenes in Ives Park (Aug. 16). Director Jim dePriest plans an extravagant set, complete with what is known in professional circles as a really big boat for the shipwreck scene. “Every time I get an idea,” he laughs, “the meter starts running.”

DePriest’s plans include strapping actress Terra Shelman (Ariel) into a harness and sailing her through the trees. As dePriest’s new tradition demands, he will move this large, fanciful production indoors to the Sonoma County Repertory Theatre after its outside run. Deciding to scrap most of the boat, he plans to light Ariel with a hologram so that she looks like a “fireball,” he chuckles, obviously very pleased with himself.

The shipwreck scene at VOM, with Prospero’s fairies wreaking destruction, will be choreographed by a professional dancer, utilizing a rhythmic musical score that crosses the upright of classical music with the undulation of North African sounds.

These two vastly different productions promise to be extremely entertaining, and certainly worth a double immersion in this tale of magic, maturity, sexuality, and wonder. All adjectives aside, see it twice.

The Avalon Players, Buena Vista Winery, 18000 Old Winery Road, Sonoma. For details, call 996-3264.

The Sonoma Valley Shakespeare Festival, Gundlach-Bundschu Winery, 2000 Denmark St., Sonoma. 584-1700 or 575-3854.

Valley of the Moon Shakespeare, 11700 Dunbar Road, Glen Ellen. 996-4802.Sebastopol Shakespeare Festival, Ives Park, Hill Street. 823-0177.

From the May 30-June 5, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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