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Show Goes on in the Park

July 31, 2008

By Rachael Bogert, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

Jul. 31–The clownlike villain Malvolio delivers a line in William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” that could serve as advice for approaching the old plays: “Be not afraid of greatness.”

Yes, the language in Shakespeare’s plays can be a trial, and there’s a list of other reasons why the stories may no longer hold mass appeal.

But be not afraid of such greatness reinterpreted, as it is at the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival. As several festival higher-ups put it, the Bard wrote to entertain and wrote about the human condition. In short, friends, Sacramentans, countrymen, there is still plenty of relevance to be found.

For this year’s festival, New World- and Caribbean-themed variations on Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and “The Tempest” are on the bill at the William A. Carroll Amphitheater in William Land Park.

And the hundreds who assembled on throw rugs to picnic, drink wine and watch “The Tempest” on a recent Friday night were most definitely not afraid of greatness.

Instead, it was a date night.

There were new couples, maybe on a third or fourth date. There were couples that looked like they were on their 5,000th date. Undeniably, it gets no more romantic than sitting close and listening to Shakespeare on a darkening summer evening.

It was a family night, too. Plenty of kids and parents turned up. The kids sat in lawn chairs next to senior family members, whispering questions and laughing hard when anyone on stage fell down. As an added, kid-friendly bonus, there are open spaces for walking if anyone is feeling antsy.

According to Luther Hanson, overall coordinator of the festival and the lead role of Prospero in “The Tempest,” it was a night that is “all for the audience.”

“Sacramento needs something like this festival,” Hanson said. “Most major cities have this, some sort of Shakespeare in the park-type festival, and it’s a luxury everyone here is entitled to as well.”

In the audience were the directors of “The Tempest” and “Twelfth Night,” David Harris and Christine Nicholson, respectively.

For someone with a show opening, Harris was very calm. He said he was “an old enough theater hack” to avoid anxiety over what could go wrong in a performance. Rather, he anticipated the audience would be “excited” by the show.

Though “The Tempest” is often considered by critics to be unclassifiable as a comedy, history or tragedy, Harris said he decided to focus on the farce.

Remaining performances for “Twelfth Night” are today and Saturday. “The Tempest” will continue on Friday and Sunday. Curtain is at 8 p.m. The box office opens at 6 p.m., and the amphitheater is open at 6:30 p.m. for early picnickers. For details, visit www.sacramentoshakespeare.net.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

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