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The Arts
May 24-30, 2006

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Outrageous Fortune

'Hamlet' is a hit among summer Shakespeare fests

By David Templeton


William Shakespeare is to summer what Charles Dickens is to winter, and here in the North Bay, we are especially attached to our summer expressions of Shakespearean fidelity.

This year, there is a definite Danish vibe to festival proceedings in the North Bay. There will be two different lean-and-mean traditional productions of Hamlet, plus a modern semicomedic adaptation of Hamlet, as well as a surrealist nightmare comedy about an actor who dreams he's about to play Hamlet. And those are just the highlights bound in a nutshell for the 2006 outdoor Shakespeare festival season.

The eccentric and beloved Shakespeare at Stinson kicks off its 2006 season with Hamlet (May 25-June 26). Directed by Kenneth Kelleher, this will be a stripped-down film noir version, working with a streamlined text that has been cut down to just over 90 minutes. The quickened pace will be augmented by an atmospheric jazz score, and the producers promise that this will be a super-intense, hard-hitting experience that will heighten the drama of Shakespeare's bloody examination of revenge and insanity.

As always at Stinson, dinner will be served for those who like to eat while enjoying incest, death and despair. As an exciting side note, the company plan to take their opening show on the road north for the first time, with planned runs of Hamlet at Novato's Hamilton Field, the Sonoma Barracks and some still undisclosed locations in Napa and Rohnert Park. After Hamlet comes Taming of the Shrew (July 7-30 and Sept. 1-17). Shakespeare at Stinson also plan a "modern" play that has yet to be decided. Details on the mobile Hamlet will be posted on the company's website in the next few weeks. For info, call 415.868.1115.

The Sonoma County Repertory Theatre's annual Sebastopol Shakespeare Festival is of the mostly-Shakespeare variety, and is also one of the more Hamlet-oriented. After kicking things off outdoors in Ives Park with a high-energy, outdoor production of the wildly slapstickish Complete History of America (abridged) (June 30-July 16), directed by the Rep's executive co-artistic director Jennifer King, the fun moves indoors for a production of Charlotte Jones' relatively new play, Humble Boy (July 21-Aug. 6). Directed by Sharon Winegar (the director of the Rep's recent hit Betrayal), Humble Boy is loosely based on Hamlet, being the story of young Felix Humble, whose father has just died and whose mother is already doing the nasty with a new man.

Warmly comedic where Hamlet is tragic, Humble Boy is crammed with quirky characters, boasts a lot of unexpected information about beekeeping and features one of the best conceived and funniest deliveries of a premeal grace ever written.

Immediately following it comes the real thing. Hamlet (Aug. 11-27), directed by the Rep's producing artistic director Scott Phillips, will create Elsinore Castle on the outdoor stage at Ives, because all that madness, bloodletting, sword fighting and death is just so much better when observed in an open-air setting. Phillips has deconstructed the play, carving it down to about two hours, and will be performing it with a tight 10-actor ensemble. For more words of wisdom about these shows (including prices and showtimes), visit www.the-rep.com or call 707.823.0177.

A little more than kin and less than kind, King Lear will be on hand at the award-winning Marin Shakespeare Company. Held at the outdoor Forest Meadows amphitheater on the campus of Dominican University in San Rafael, the melancholy Dane's moody distant cousin is featured in a massive production starring longtime Oregon Shakespeare Festival veteran Barry Kraft as the tragic monarch who foolishly divides his country in three.

According to his bio, Kraft holds the weighty distinction of having appeared at least once in all 38 of Shakespeare's plays. Lear (July 7-Aug. 20), to be directed by artistic director Robert Currier, is rich with gorgeous prose and raw emotions, and (a lot of people forget this) more or less dripping in blood. (Lear, lest you forget, features a major act of double-duty eye yanking—so make sure to sit up close.)

Also on the Will bill is the over-the-top Comedy of Errors (Sept. 1-24), one of the twins-separated-at-birth comedies, to be directed by the great James Dunn, and a new adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (July 14-Aug. 20), adapted and directed by managing director Lesley Currier, featuring local favorite Darren Bridgett as the Mad Hatter and Marin Shakespeare stalwart George Maguire as the caterpillar. Learn more by calling 415.499.4488.

In its second annual outing, Windsor's Shakespeare on the Green continues its habit of presenting two free productions alternating back and forth during the season. This year, the Greenies present comedic romances: The Taming of the Shrew (July 21-23 and 29; Aug. 4, 6, 12) and Twelfth Night (July 22, 28, 30 and Aug. 5, 11, 13), both directed by the legendary Jim dePriest. Last year's event was extremely successful, with an audience totaling thousands who brought lawn chairs and picnics out to the Windsor Green to watch people fall in and out of love in conspicuously Shakespearean ways.

Sandlot Shakespeare's Carl Hamilton nearly snubs the Bard, focusing instead on playwright Christopher Durang's genius. On the outdoor stage at Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma, Hamilton stages Durang's sociopolitical comedy Sister Mary Ingatius Explains It All for You, which opens with the hilarious one-act The Actor's Nightmare, in which an actor has a very bad dream about Hamlet (Aug. 5-6, 10-11).

Also on the Gundlach-Bundschu stage, the irrepressible Kate Kennedy launches her 26th year with the Avalon Players, presenting two versions of Much Ado About Nothing, one with teenaged actors (July 14-16); the other, adult (Aug. 25-27, Sept. 1-3 and 8-10). Kennedy is known for introducing the unexpected and for plenty of jolly cross-dressing even where Will doesn't call for it. She expects the production this year to be "modern," but warns that she may pull the biggest surprise of all and play it straight.


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