Bard on the beach

Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival will leave you entertained

A scene from <i>Two Gentlemen of Verona</i>

A scene from Two Gentlemen of Verona

The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival is a sand-in-your-shoes affair. The plays are staged at Sand Habor in a natural bowl overlooking the water. Patrons sit in beach chairs while seagulls fly overhead.

It’s a light-hearted, entertainment-oriented series, with no academic agenda or pre-show lectures. But while the shows are accessible and audience-friendly, they aren’t dumbed down. Thoughtful little interpretive touches undergird the stories. The humor—much of it bawdy this summer—springs from the text, even when the presentation borrows on American styles. The cast is more than up to the task.

Programming draws exclusively on Shakespeare’s comedies. You won’t get a full portrait of the playwright here—no tragedies or histories—nor will you get edgy, modern interpretations.

But what they do, they do rather well. This summer’s shows, The Comedy of Errors and Two Gentlemen of Verona, are both well-crafted, thoroughly enjoyable efforts—ample evidence that the old Bard’s tricks can still delight audiences, 400-plus years after he wrote them.

The Comedy of Errors
This play involves two sets of twins, oft confused. Director Michael Haney uses pantomime to ease his way through the expository opening speech, and then works in a Three Stooges style of physical comedy. A scene involving a locked door, with twin servants on either side, is very funny and also raunchy (flatulence jokes are key).

Costumes and staging hint at medieval Middle Eastern mystery. Carolyn Howarth, a long-limbed natural comedienne, is funny as the jealous wife who accidentally romances her husband’s twin, while Thomas Redding goes over the top in high style as the mistreated spouse. Philip Charles Sneed gets in a funny scene as a wizard-like conjurer, sent to cast out demons.

This will probably be the more popular show; not so much because it’s the better production, but because it’s the funnier script, with an unambiguous ending.

Two Gentlemen of Verona
Director Philip Charles Sneed sets this one in Italy during the Jazz Age and works in a sprightly flapper-style dance by the energetic Karyn Casl. The story involves the travels and romances of two young men (Health Kelts, Gillen Morrison) who get in and out of trouble, but the humor rises mostly from the antics of clowns Speed (Thomas Redding) and Launce (Gary Wright), done in rat-a-tat vaudeville style, and a dog, Crab, who steals the scene every time. Smart sound design and well-chosen music reinforce the play throughout. The play’s ending—which involves an element of forgiveness that is difficult to make credible—works reasonably well.

For all plays, advance ticket purchase is recommended, as performances draw upwards of 900 people on weekends.

There are take-out dinners, desserts and beverages for sale, and chair rental is available for $3. Do-it-yourself types can bring their own picnic baskets and low-rise, low-back beach chairs. Blankets and jackets are highly recommended, as temperatures drop after sundown. Parking is free after 5 p.m.