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August 26, 2004
are born great...
by ELLIN BELTZ
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
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.
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
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
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
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 www.shakespearebenbow.com, 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.
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