Fore, art thou?
The Sacramento Shakespeare Festival cast and crew lucked out on opening weekend. The temperature was a sweltering 104 degrees, which doesn’t make Land Park’s outdoor amphitheater too inviting for audiences or actors, even at night.
By Saturday evening, a cool breeze began to blow. By the 8:30 p.m. curtain, it was perfect weather to enjoy a play in the park. Unfortunately, the daytime heat kept most people away.
Too bad—they missed out on a bizarre and strangely inviting take on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The production was dicey at the beginning— slow pacing, plus a kooky concept that Sacramento Shakespeare Festival director Kim McCann cooked up. But the result was a fun-filled evening of the Bard meets the Three Stooges.
The story began with the classic Twelfth Night: Viola, shipwrecked in the country of Illyria, dresses up as this guy Cesario, who acts as a messenger for the Duke, who is pursuing Olivia, who falls in love with Viola/Cesario, who is really in love with the Duke. It’s typical Shakespeare, filled with mooning lovers, mistaken identities, crossed messages, highbrow speeches, lowbrow humor, prattles, pranks and pratfalls.
McCann refashioned the play as a Roaring 1920s comedy movie, complete with Keystone Cops, hints of Oliver Hardy, Curly of the Three Stooges, women in flapper dresses, a man in a fez, golf clubs as fencing foils, and even period songs.
Though the tomfoolery strips away all the play’s subtlety, it works for this summer setting, especially for the family crowd that the festival attracts. Kids can appreciate the high jinks, and adults can enjoy the language, humor and twisting plot lines.
Holding it together is Sarah Rowland as cross-dresser Viola/Cesario. She keeps the rudder straight while her wacky shipmates swirl around her. Rowland has fun with her character but keeps it in check, allowing the absurdity to bounce off her.
And those producing the wackiness are wonderful, especially Jes Gonzales as Sir Toby Belch, Ed Gyles as the Curly-like Sir Andrew, Michael Saumure as Feste the Jester, Kathleen Saumure as Feste’s sister, Sarah Jane Thomas as Olivia and the very funny John David Rambo as the self-lover Malvolio.
Does the concept always work? No. Does Shakespeare really need a gimmick? No. But is it sometimes OK to go way out on a limb and crank the Bard up, just for fun? You bet, as long as it comes off as well as this Twelfth Night.