North Coast Journal banner

August 26, 2004
Behind the Stage Door

Some are born great...


SHAKESPEARE AT BENBOW LAKE CELEBRATES ITS 22ND year with three shows this weekend: Legends of Arthur and Merlin, Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing.

Driving down from Ferndale through the mighty redwoods, I realized some of these same trees were standing when Shakespeare's work was originally performed in the 1600s.

Before leaving home, I'd asked for directions, and in true Humboldt County fashion I was told, "You can't miss it." And it's true, you can't. Once I got to Benbow Lake a quick right turn revealed a magical late-afternoon vision of tents, tables and Elizabethan set, washed with twinkling light from the lake.Photo of actors in the Twelfth Night

The dinner was superb, conversation sparkling, entertainment provided by highly talented local people excellent, and once we'd moved to the quarter acre of white seats, the audience settled in and the chirping of birds blended with Elizabethan madrigals.

[Olivia (Sandra Weingart) and Malvolio (James G. Mantell)]

Bruce De Les Dernier, artistic director of the Festival Theatre Ensemble, and Carolyn Hino-Bourassa, the new Shakespeare at Benbow Festival administrator, unfurled the festival flag in honor of founder Dana Dimmick. As the lights rose on stage, the twilight faded, the waxing crescent moon slowly sank in the west -- and time stood still.

Twelfth Night was first performed in 1602 and was based on an Italian tale and play. Like many of Shakespeare's works, it features fast-paced dialogue and action, usually narrated or joined by a single character. His theater like all others of his time was open to the sky.

We could have been in that faraway time as Feste Fabian, the clown (Elise Angell), appeared onstage with a twinkle of eye and jingle of bells. A procession of nearly all the characters in Twelfth Night, mourning the death of the brother of Countess Olivia (Sandra Weingart), introduces the players to us, most particularly Olivia's unwelcome suitor, Orsino, the Duke of Illyria (Douglas Young). A shipwreck separates twins Sebastian (Aaron Parees) and Viola (Rebecca Stroth-Pickens), each rescued by a different ship and captain. Washed ashore, Viola decides to dress as a man and enter the service of the Duke.

Viola calls herself Cesario and becomes the Duke's messenger of love to Olivia, who not only rejects each of the Duke's offers, but falls in love with Cesario. The gender bending continues through some lovely dialogue as Viola realizes she has fallen in love with the Duke, but cannot -- as a boy -- confess her love for the older man.

Olivia has some other problems, too, in her steward and houseguests. Malvolio (James G. Mantell) dreams far above his station and is brought down by a letter written by Olivia's clever maid (Allison Asher) and some sheer torment from Olivia's kinsman (Todd Wright), another unwelcome suitor (Amr Mourad), and Feste.

Elizabethan theater was both verbal and physical, and this cast delivers. Just as you think you've had the last laugh they can stretch from an old gag, out comes another variation and more guffaws. The audience was enthralled, even the little kids.

I could write not only the 700 words I'm allotted, but a thousand more on each and every detail, the lovely costumes, the timing, the swordplay, the Bard's dialogue, the action -- but wouldn't it be simpler to go see it yourself?

The family show, Legends of Arthur and Merlin, commissioned for the festival, will have its world premiere at Benbow. It includes sword-fighting demonstrations by the cast as well as four never-before-told tales of Pendragon times.

The Festival Theatre Ensemble is very like the traveling theater troupes of Elizabethan times. Each actor not only performs, but assists with lights, curtains, and so on. I enjoyed immensely seeing real Shakespeare, particularly beautiful amidst the trees, clear skies and beauty of Benbow Lake.

Fall in love with Shakespearean theater over again, but be quick about it! Legends of Arthur and Merlin plays Aug. 26, plus a special matinee at 2 p.m. Aug. 28 (to replace the Aug. 22 show, which was rained out); Twelfth Night plays Aug. 27 and Much Ado About Nothing Aug. 28. Dinner is at 6 p.m.; the shows starts at 8 p.m.

---- ---- ----

Purchase play and dinner tickets online at, or by calling tollfree, 866-468-3399 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.



  • Enter the Guardsman opens Aug. 26 and runs through Sept. 18 at Redwood Curtain Theatre, 443-7688.
  • Sept. 2 is Actor's Benefit Night for the cast and crew of Oklahoma! at Ferndale Rep; the show continues through Sept. 4. Call 786-LIVE.




North Coast Journal banner

© Copyright 2004, North Coast Journal, Inc.