Bard on the water

The Comedy of Errors, TheTwo Gentlemen of Verona

Kicking it in <i>The</i> <i>Two Gentlemen of Verona</i>: Shaun Carroll and Drew Hirshfield.

Kicking it in TheTwo Gentlemen of Verona: Shaun Carroll and Drew Hirshfield.

Click for Legend
The Comedy of Errors


Click for Legend
The Two Gentlemen of Verona


The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival is a sand-in-your-shoes affair. The plays are staged in a natural bowl overlooking the water, patrons sit in beach chairs while seagulls fly overhead, Canada geese waddle along the shore. An occasional water-skier skims along in the background as the show starts just before sundown.

It’s a lighthearted, entertainment-oriented series, with no academic agenda or pre-show lectures. People picnic and sip wine before shows. Productions are easy to follow visually (even children unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s language can understand the action); costumes are mainstream (though not restricted to orthodox pumpkin breeches).

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, including six Equity actors this year, 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 are both well-crafted, thoroughly enjoyable efforts—ample evidence that the old Bard’s tricks can still delight audiences, 400 and some years after he wrote them down.

Performances draw more than 900 people on weekends and advance ticket purchase is recommended. Takeout dinners and beverages are for sale, or take your own picnic basket and low-rise, low-back beach chair (or rent one for $3). Blankets or jackets are highly recommended as temperatures drop after sundown, and take a flashlight for the walk to the unlit parking area after the show. You might keep a poncho or umbrella in the trunk; there are occasional late afternoon thundershowers over the mountains, but these fade around sundown.

The Comedy of Errors
Two sets of twins, oft confused. Director Michael Haney, who staged an ill-fated production of this play at the Sacramento Theatre Company a few years ago, does much better this time around. He uses pantomime to ease his way through the expository opening speech, then works in a Three Stooges-style physical comedy. The scene involving a locked door, with twin servants on either side, is very funny and also raunchy (flatulence). 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, who never does anything halfway, goes over the top in high style as the spouse mistreated. 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.

The 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 involving the energetic Karyn Casl. The story involves the travels and romances of two young men (Heath 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 dog Crab, who steals the scene every time. Smart sound design and well-chosen music reinforce throughout. The play’s ending—which involves an element of forgiveness that is difficult to make credible—works reasonably well.