A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Othello
Old Sugar Mill35265 Willow Ave.
Clarksburg, CA 95612
William A. Carroll Amphitheatre3901 Land Park Dr.
Sacramento, CA 95822
It’s closing weekend for one of Sacramento’s outdoor treasures: the annual Sacramento Shakespeare Festival in Land Park. Both shows in this year’s repertory are quite well done, but if you’ve only got time for one, here are some observations that might help you choose.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a Shakespeare comedy much favored by community groups; it’s a four-way love story that graciously incorporates less-experienced actors and typically comes decked in dewdrops and fairy dust. But occasionally, a thoughtful director finds a fresh angle, which is what David Harris has done here.
Harris turns the feuding faerie power couple (Titania and Oberon) into slavish drinkers of absinthe—the green herbal liquor, reputedly hallucinogenic, that fascinated (and dissipated) 19th-century intellectuals—they actually nicknamed absinthe “The Green Fairy,” and several painters imagined a green ghost leading disheveled absinthe addicts to a drooling, brain-addled doom. Harris invents a scene in which the Titania’s spirits cavort with goblets of milky-green stuff in a dance resembling a bacchanal. This transmutes the Faerie Queene’s retinue (typically played by cute kiddies wearing gauzy wings) into sensual substance abusers on an all-night binge, yet it still seems grounded in the text, given Shakespeare’s references to mind-altering herbs.
Watch for veteran community actor Jes Gonzales as Bottom; frisky teen Will Block as Puck, and goofy Zack Sapunor and Ray Schau as Titania’s party musicians.
Othello is presented à la New Orleans, with a saxophone player onstage, a bit of Bessie Smith-style blues in the sound design, and costumes that suggest the Jazz Age. The Deep South is also famously obsessed with race and interracial sex, which dovetails with Shakespeare’s lines about the skin color of the Moor and his fair Venetian bride.
This festival has checkered past presenting tragedies, but under Luther Hanson’s direction, Othello is one of the better efforts. As Othello, Gregory Jolivette connects fully with the part, and several actors in supporting roles draw on past experience at bigger festivals, particularly Christine Nicholson as Iago’s wife, Emilia, and Anthony Pounders as an interesting, complex Cassio. Rod Breton, as the villain Iago, keeps his malice simmering and controlled, which means that when it leaks out, it’s even more effective.
The William A. Carroll Amphitheatre’s sound system is problematic (best advice: Don’t try fixing it; just get new equipment that will work better).
Go early with a picnic and get a spot on the grass; sweaters or lap blankets are a good idea since it can get chilly during the last act, and insect repellent is always a must. This is a nice little series that has charm.
And for those who can’t get enough local summer Shakespeare, Shakespeare on the Vine will open The Merry Wives of Windsor in Clarksburg (south of West Sacramento in rural Yolo County) on August 5.
The Merry Wives of Windsor will play August 5-8 and 19-20 in the Old Sugar Mill, 35265 Willow Avenue in Clarksburg. The production is hosted by the Carvalho Family Winery, and the doors will open at 5:30 p.m. for pre-show wine tasting, with performances starting one hour later. Tickets are $12 at the door ($10 pre-sale, seniors and military); for more information call (916) 491-1085 or visit www.westsactheater.com.