Got a hankering for summer Shakespeare? There are several close-to-home opportunities this year, with four local companies mounting productions in Yolo County this summer.
Already up and running is the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble’s production of “As You Like It,” which is perhaps the most pastoral of Shakespeare’s comedies. Much of the action takes place in the Eden-like Forest of Arden, which director Rob Salas interprets as the deep woods of Southern Appalachia in this production. The venue for the show is the Gazebo in the UC Davis Arboretum — surrounded by trees and greenery — a location that blends with the director’s concept.
Within this dense (but friendly) forest, several exiled nobles — banished by a suspicious, usurping Duke — find they can relax and enjoy the rustic charms of rural life. Essentially, they’re on an extended campout (like Robin Hood and his Merry Men), with a seemingly plentiful supply of venison to roast over a fire. And love seems to blossom spontaneously in this natural setting.
There’s also a plucky woman named Rosalind (who passes herself off as a boy), and the script contains one of the most famous speeches in all of Shakespeare (“All the world’s a stage”).
For this production, director Salas puts particularly focus on the songs. Shakespeare’s script provides the lyrics, but not the tunes — this production uses original melodies by former UCD student Richard Chowenhill, now pursuing a Ph.D. at Brandeis. Chowenhill leads a live four-piece band (including banjo and mandolin), which plays in many scenes.
“The songs are often underused in many productions,” Salas said, “but for us, the music has been the entry point from the get-go. I like the lyrics, and the way they talk about nature; and the tonal quality led us to a sound that resembles Ozark music, with a somewhat dark edge.”
Salas said he’s cut a fair amount of material from the play’s early scenes, which are preoccupied with political paranoia as a usurping Duke lashes out at those around him, sending several courtiers into exile.
“I feel we need to get the story into the forest as fast as possible,” he said. “And we use the music, even in those early city scenes, to pull our characters toward the forest.” Once the story moves into the trees, life becomes much more pleasant, and romance blossoms.
Given that the show is performed outdoors in the evening, Salas recommends bringing “some bug spray, and a sweatshirt on the colder nights.” Performances are Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 6:30 p.m., through June 30. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for students/seniors, $10 for 12 and under, available at www.shakespearedavis.com or 530-802-0998.
Common House Productions, a relatively new group, is doing outdoor productions of Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (alternating with Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest) on the Wyatt Deck overlooking Putah Creek, near the Wyatt Pavilion on the UCD campus.
“Love’s Labour’s Lost” is another largely pastoral comedy involving a young and single king and three young lords, who decide (in a moment of noble but unrealistic intent) to devote themselves to three years of contemplative academic pursuits, swearing off the company of women (and fasting periodically to boot).
Needless to say, these gentlemen’s studious plan goes awry when a beautiful princess and three ladies set up camp in a field nearby, and comic episodes ensue as the men disguise themselves and try to meet the women.
According to dramaturg Vanessa Rapatz, the Common House production incorporates a “steampunk” motif, with costumes recalling the formal look (and 19th century technology) of the Victorian era.
The companion production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” will be moved from the late 1800s to the 1910s-20s — think “Downton Abbey.” And as Rapatz points out, “both scripts feature a battle of the sexes, so they play off each other, which is fun.”
“Love’s Labour’s Lost” plays July 6, 12, 14, 18 and 20. “The Importance of Being Earnest” plays July 5, 7, 11, 13, 19 and 21. All shows are at 8 p.m. on the Wyatt Deck at UCD. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for students/seniors, with a discount if you reserve for both shows. For online tickets, go to commonhouseproductions.com.
Acme Theatre Company — the long-established local youth theater group — will present “Romeo and Juliet,” Shakespeare’s tragedy about young star-crossed lovers, on Aug. 2-4 and 8-11 indoors at the Brunelle Performance Hall at Davis High School, 315 W. 14th St.
“We will be doing a play about teenagers with real teenagers,” said director Emily Henderson, who was a teenage member of Acme herself some years back, before she left for college studies at Wellesley. Henderson returned to Acme as artistic director in 2008.
Not only will there be teenagers in the Acme cast, there will actually be two casts: one all-female, the other male-and-female. (Shakespeare, in his day, worked with an all-male acting company.)
As Henderson notes, “As an actor, I had the opportunity to spend four years of my life as a member of the Wellesley College Shakespeare Society, acting in nothing but all-female Shakespeare productions. I found the experience of portraying men at first challenging, then profoundly liberating, then exhilarating, and then just mountains of fun!” So she’s creating a similar opportunity at Acme.
What’s more, Henderson is setting the play in “a contemporary world, with sectarian violence — one where peacekeepers have been sent in to resolve a local feud using military force, like the U.N. troops coming into a civil-war-torn country.”
The production also will be color-coded, with characters allied with the Montague family wearing black, and characters allied with the Capulets wearing white. The peacekeepers will wear gray.
“Color will be very political,” Henderson advised. “We will have the military peacekeepers trying to sustain a truce, we will have friars promoting nonviolence, and we will have the leaders of the two families, who are not really interested in resolving anything.”
“Romeo and Juliet” also includes a good deal of swordplay, with deadly outcomes. Acme is bringing in an alumnus — Dan Renkin, a one-time Acme member who now lives in New York and has served as a fight choreographer with several Broadway shows and Metropolitan Opera productions — to work with Acme’s teens on handling the stage daggers and longer blades.
Seating will be limited to 90 seats arranged around the Brunelle Theatre’s stage. Acme’s all-female cast will perform on Aug. 2 (4 p.m.), Aug. 4 (4 p.m.) and Aug. 10 (2 and 7 p.m.). The mixed-gender cast will perform on Aug. 3 (7 p.m.), Aug. 8 (7 p.m.), Aug. 9 (7 p.m.) and Aug. 11 (4 p.m.)
Tickets are $12 in advance or $14 at the door for adults, $10 in advance or $12 at the door for students/seniors. Tickets are available online at romeojuliet.brownpapertickets.com.
Winters Theatre Company will stage its own production, “As You Like It.” Performance dates are Fridays and Saturdays, Aug. 9-10 and 16-17. The show starts at 8 p.m. in the outdoor amphitheater overlooking Putah Creek at the Winters Community Center, 201 Railroad Ave.
“A lot of people come early and bring their lawn chairs and a picnic dinner,” said director Howard Hupe. “We have been doing these shows for 10 or 12 years; the amphitheater is one of the nicest outdoor venues in Yolo County.”
He added that the Winters Theatre Company likes to “open Shakespeare up to everybody” by focusing on a fairly traditional and easy-to-follow approach to the script, and keeping the ticket prices “very reasonable” — $5 general, with children under 12 free (accompanied by an adult).
— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.