Sacramento Shakespeare Festival

Rated 3.0 The Sacramento Shakespeare Festival—which this summer features productions of Much Ado About Nothing and Henry V—is going in for a bit of time travel.The scripts are pure Shakespeare, as always. But the settings of each production will get a tweak—or two, or three—as the directors look for creative ways to frame the material.

Director Kim McCann has moved the setting of Much Ado to an English countryside estate circa 1820. McCann is deliberately playing off the manicured appearance of William Land Park, where the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival is held. The stately trees, well-tended flower beds, reflective duck ponds and closely mowed lawns will be matched with costumes that are long on cotton fabrics—including prints (a relatively new development in the 1820s, an era when England was supreme in textiles). Look for pastels, paisley and plaids “in abundance,” McCann promises.

Within this context, McCann intends to present Much Ado as a polite comedy of manners. The story, of course, centers on the witty verbal assaults between reluctant lovers Beatrice and Benedick. Any reservations you sense from the decision to set the play in the era when Jane Austen wrote her novels is entirely deliberate.

McCann will also be presenting the villains (including the meddlesome Don John) with a 19th-century twist as well, giving them a Dickensian “bad to be bad” persona.

Much Ado, along with Shakespeare’s other comedies, are often familiar to many viewers. But this summer’s other production by Sacramento Shakespeare Festival—Henry V—gets a lot less exposure nowadays, as do the other history plays.

For those who don’t know the script, the story involves the transformation of rowdy Prince Hal (something of a playboy in his youth, consorting with the roguish Falstaff) into King Henry V, a strong-willed leader of men and a powerful warrior on the battlefield, capable of making difficult decisions and doing what he feels is best for the nation, even if it means cracking down hard on his erstwhile drinking buddies.

“I always like the way Shakespeare made Henry a sympathetic character in the play,” says director Luther Hanson. “But I also want to look at Henry the Politician, making choices that he thinks are right, even when the choices lead to war—a war in which people die.”

Hanson will employ a telescoping time scheme in telling the story. The play’s first act will be set in the 1400s, Henry V’s era, with the second act costumed in Elizabethan times, Shakespeare’s era, the third act set circa the French Revolution, the fourth act in the colonial times of the British Raj, and the final act set in contemporary times. Expect to see a related mix of swords, saber and other weaponry over an equivalent period of time.

“But certain characters will remain isolated in their own era,” Hanson warns—including Henry’s erstwhile drinking buddies.

Much Ado About Nothing opens June 28 and will also play June 29, July 7, 13, 19, 21, 28, and August 1 and 3. Henry V opens on July 5 and also plays July 6, 12, 14, 20, 25, 26, and August 2 and 4. Tickets are $12 general, $10 students, seniors and SARTA members. No reservations are taken. All performances are in the William A. Carroll Amphitheatre in William Land Park. Box office opens at 6 p.m. and gates open at 6:30 p.m. Performances begin at 8:30 p.m.

For information call (916) 558-2228.