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Show goes on in the park

By Rachael Bogert - rbogert@sacbee.com

Published 12:00 am PDT Thursday, July 17, 2008
Story appeared in CITY section, Page G6

x Director David Harris decided to focus on the farce in "The Tempest," which is now being performed in William Land Park. Michael Allen Jones / mjones@sacbee.com

The clownlike villain Malvolio delivers a line in William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" that could serve as advice for approaching the old plays: "Be not afraid of greatness."

Yes, the language in Shakespeare's plays can be a trial, and there's a list of other reasons why the stories may no longer hold mass appeal.

But be not afraid of such greatness reinterpreted, as it is at the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival. As several festival higher-ups put it, the Bard wrote to entertain and wrote about the human condition. In short, friends, Sacramentans, countrymen, there is still plenty of relevance to be found.

For this year's festival, New World- and Caribbean-themed variations on Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" and "The Tempest" are on the bill at the William A. Carroll Amphitheater in William Land Park.

And the hundreds who assembled on throw rugs to picnic, drink wine and watch "The Tempest" on Friday night were most definitely not afraid of greatness.

Instead, it was a date night.

There were new couples, maybe on a third or fourth date. There were couples that looked like they were on their 5,000th date. Undeniably, it gets no more romantic than sitting close and listening to Shakespeare on a darkening summer evening.

It was a family night, too. Plenty of kids and parents turned up. The kids sat in lawn chairs next to senior family members, whispering questions and laughing hard when anyone on stage fell down. As an added, kid-friendly bonus, there are open spaces for walking if anyone is feeling antsy.

According to Luther Hanson, overall coordinator of the festival and the lead role of Prospero in "The Tempest," it's a night that is "all for the audience."

"Sacramento needs something like this festival," Hanson said. "Most major cities have this, some sort of Shakespeare in the park-type festival, and it's a luxury everyone here is entitled to as well."

In the audience Friday night were the directors of "The Tempest" and "Twelfth Night," David Harris and Christine Nicholson, respectively.

"Twelfth Night" opened July 5. "The Tempest" opened Friday.

For someone with a show opening, Harris was very calm. He said he was "an old enough theater hack" to avoid anxiety over what could go wrong in a performance. Rather, he anticipated the audience would be "excited" by the show.

"We have trimmed the fat of the dialogue to make this a fast-paced show, and people should really like the pace as well as the topical nature of the play," he said.

Though "The Tempest" is often considered by critics to be unclassifiable as a comedy, history or tragedy, Harris said he decided to focus on the farce.

Nicholson said that during "Twelfth Night," one of the more celebrated of Shakespeare's comedies, the "audience laughed at all the funny stuff."

"As a director, you see the same jokes a million times during rehearsals,"she said. "And then it's on stage, and there's a beautiful synergy among the players and every-one starts laughing."

And there were big laughs at "The Tempest," as well. At the physical comedy and, of course, at the witty language.

Matt Jones of Sacramento was drinking merlot during the intermission. He comes every year he can to this festival.

"I'm enjoying it like I do every year," Jones said. "It's great for everybody, and it's a fun, accessible kind of night."

Cate Spears, also of Sacramento, was there with family and a few friends. Though some of the people in her party were having a difficult time following the language and hearing what was being said on stage, Spears is still a strong advocate for the festival.

"The performers are doing an awesome job putting forth emotions into their characters, and a lot of productions that you see fail in doing that," she said. "It's definitely worth seeing, even if you aren't familiar with Shakespeare at all."

Remaining performances for "Twelfth Night" are Friday, Sunday, July 25, July 31 and Aug. 2. "The Tempest" will run on Saturday, July 24, July 27 and Aug. 1 and Aug. 3. Curtain is at 8 p.m. The box office opens at 6 p.m., and the amphitheater is open at 6:30 p.m. for early picnickers. For details, visit www.sacramentoshakespeare.net.

About the writer:

  • Call The Bee's Rachael Bogert, (916) 321-1058.

x Couples and families arrived at William Land Park amphitheater early to picnic before Friday's show. Michael Allen Jones / mjones@sacbee.com

x Ed Lee prepares to go onstage. "We have trimmed the fat of the dialogue to make this a fast-paced show," director David Harris says. Michael Allen Jones / mjones@sacbee.com