Sunday, March 30, 2014


Each spring North Coast Repertory Theatre in Eureka produces a Shakespeare play. This spring it is producing all of them.

 That’s the premise of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised], now on stage at North Coast Rep: 37 Shakespeare plays reduced to a single show.

 That description suggests that there’s nothing but Shakespeare for its entire 90-plus minutes. But there’s so much else going on—including copious audience participation—that comic reductions of the plays are only part of the evening.

 There are three characters on stage, though they are given the names of the actors playing them. “Victor” (Victor Howard) is a phony Shakespeare expert (his certificate from Pre-Eminent Shakespeare is Photoshopped.) “Anders” (Anders Carlson) is a loose cannon whose idea of drama is vomiting on the audience. “Gavin” (Gavin Lyall) is sort of the host and peacemaker, who just before intermission finds himself alone telling jokes while Victor chases after the rebellious Anders at the airport.

 They do get around to parodies of the plays, which depend more on performance than content: Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus as a cooking show, Macbeth on the golf course and Othello as a rap (not the script’s best moment.) The histories become a football game, and due to their similarities, the comedies all become one play (“Four Weddings and a Transvestite.”)

The second act is devoted to Hamlet with elaborate audience involvement. Even with the required irreverence, the tone is generally more playful than disdainful.

 This show was first developed 27 years ago by Andrew Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield as the Reduced Shakespeare Company. That production alone ran in London for 9 years and there have been many productions since. So the authors of this more recent revision had the benefit of hundreds of audiences to fine-tune a perfect laugh machine.

If the highly lubricated opening night audience at North Coast Rep is any proof, it works. It requires that the cast be engaging, versatile and quick on their feet. Howard, Carlson and Lyall have that winning combination. There’s verbal humor but the show doesn’t focus on Shakespeare’s language—much of the fun is physical. With David Hamilton’s resourceful direction, this trio capers across Calder Johnson’s functional if indeterminate set (a theater backstage crossed with a child’s playroom perhaps), with forays into the audience.

 The idea of reducing Shakespeare for comic effect goes back even further than the first version of this play, especially in the UK. This show’s Hamlet is not far from Tom Stoppard’s 15-minute Hamlet in the early 1970s (except of course for the audience portraying Ophelia’s brain). Beyond the Fringe played with the language (“O saucy Worcester!”), as did later Peter Cook and Dudley Moore parodies, while Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Laurie and once again Tom Stoppard (in Shakespeare in Love) applied aspects of contemporary show biz to the Bard’s plays for comic effect.

 It is true that, as advertised, audiences don’t need to know Shakespeare’s plays in detail to enjoy this show, while the experienced are given a few inside jokes. I especially enjoyed the parodies of acting out the lines with elaborate gestures that has become virulent in Shakespeare performances.

 But does this play make the Bard more accessible, also as advertised? Maybe, in at least one sense. The show seems to get its comic energy less from Shakespeare parody than Shakespeare anxiety—the sense that the Bard is remote and snooty. Release from expected solemnity and inferiority feelings may allow a more relaxed openness to the plays. (Yet it’s interesting that one of the evening’s memorable moments is Carlson reciting a classic Shakespeare speech straight.)

 The truth is that nobody understands or appreciates every line of every Shakespeare play. Revelations and bright moments of enjoyment are personal, though sometimes greatly helped by a remarkable performance or production. That’s one reason people keep producing these same plays and audiences keep going. Shakespeare’s plays are more popular now than ever. Although there won’t be one at NCRT this year.

 Megan Johnson designed the costumes, Calder Johnson the lighting, Pam Service organized the properties, and Howard Lang provided original music. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] continues weekends at NCRT through April 19. There is some bawdiness (though less than in many Shakespeare productions.) Junior high and older students should enjoy it, along with adults. 442-6278.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

Dell’Arte School first-years present 10 short melodramas of their own devising in An Evening of Melodrama, Thursday-Saturday March 20-22 at 8 p.m. in the Carlo Theatre. The 27 students involved come from 12 countries, including Iran, Georgia, Brazil, Greece, Puerto Rico, Zimbabwe, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, Canada and Spain.  (Photo above is from a 2007 melodrama performance.)  707-668-5663,

The Random People's Theater Project presents a community-based project, Night At The General: 10 vignettes set in a hospital.  It's performed at the Mateel Community Center Friday through Sunday (March 21-23) at 8 p.m. with an additional 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Monty Python's Spamalot continues at Ferndale Rep.  My review (with an update on Ferndale's future) is in this week's North Coast Papa Murphy's Pizza Journal.

The Love List continues at Redbud Theatre in Willow Creek Friday and Saturday .

Friday, March 14, 2014

Spamalot and Ferndale Update: It's the Brighter Side of Life

Typical Humboldt Theatergoer Ricky Plantagenet fondly recalls that as a young sprout helping Aunt Mary and Uncle John with the harvest, he and his buds amused themselves in the fields by reciting Monty Python and the Holy Grail word for word. Now semi-retired from selling plague insurance in Fortuna, Ricky has just seen the musical Monty Python’s Spamalot, currently on stage at Ferndale Repertory Theatre. “They got some bits from the movie exactly right,” he said, “but on other bits the director violated canon. She should be fired.” (He apparently meant the director, not the cannon.)

 However, Ricky’s wife Errata-Mae, who has never seen the movie but has heard of Broadway, said she loved the singing and dancing. They both reported laughing a lot.

 The musical does enact the movie’s most famous scenes though sometimes differently and out of order (the Black Knight doesn’t show up until the second act.) But that’s not the director’s fault—it’s the writer’s, Sir Eric of Idle (who appears to banter with King Arthur in this production.)

 Apart from its basic task of dismembering the legend of King Arthur and the Round Table, the play is true to the Pythonic spirit in seizing every opportunity to mock everything, including itself.

 Much of the musical (especially Act II) is a broad parody of Broadway musicals, from the classics like, well, Camelot, to the bombast of Phantom of the Opera. There’s the rude jokes and edgy satire of the Python troupe, as well as the wordplay inherited from earlier Oxford and Cambridge wits like the Beyond the Fringe boys (so the Lady of the Lake is accompanied by the Laker Girls.)

But even parodies of Broadway can deliver buoyant singing and dancing, and this production does. You can eat your satire and have the brighter side of life as well. There’s even a cute ending.

 A successful ensemble production requires the complete engagement of everyone on stage at every moment, and that commitment was evident at Ferndale even in a matinee performed hours after the show’s premiere. Let the irrepressible Brandi Lacy (Lady of the Lake) represent the singers and the electric Danielle Chicon symbolize the dancers (Did I hear a symbol crash?)

 Everyone has shining moments, notably Edward Olson (Arthur), Bobby Amirkhanian (Patsy), Anthony Mankins (Galahad), Tyler Egerer (Robin), and Dimitry Tokarsky and Brandon Day in various parts. To name but a few.

 The comic timing and expression are so universally fine that apart from individual talent, this must be among director Carol Esobar’s many accomplishments in this production. She makes full use of the big stage without it ever seeming too crowded, thanks also to the efficient set designed by Daniel Nyiri and Brittany Haynes. Beyond fully serving the show, Dianne Zuleger’s orchestra and Jenneveve Hood’s costumes are superior. The actors and special effects designer Daniel Lawrence pull off some very funny stage magic. Danielle Chichon’s choreography, Telfer Reynolds’ lighting, Howard Lang’s sound, and an army of others contributed to this impressively accomplished and high-spirited production.

 Monty Python’s Spamalot is onstage at Ferndale Rep weekends through April 6. Evening shows start at the earlier time of 7:30.

 And Now For Something Completely Different:  As for the future at Ferndale, new Ferndale Rep board president (and Spamalot producer) Greta Stockwell tells me that the rest of this season is set, and next season should be announced at the end of April.

 Beginning April 25, Ferndale Rep will host a performing arts festival for two weekends, called “Music From the Hart.” (Hart being the name of the Rep’s building.) Then opening on June 6 is the small-cast comedy The Dixie Swim Club, directed by Leira Satlof. The musical The Wedding Singer, directed by Brandi Lacy, opens July 25.

 In general, Stockwell says, the Rep wants their seasons to consist of three or four musicals and one or two straight plays. The board is running the organization at the moment, but will soon advertise for several permanent positions, including artistic director, technical director, office and house manager, and bookkeeper.

 “We have a tremendous group of volunteers who have been working tireless hours to keep our doors open in spite of the negativity that has surrounded the Rep as of late,” Stockwell said in an email. “We will continue to aim for theater that entices the community, engages artists and creates high production values. I, personally, want the Rep to be a fun and safe place for artists to work and play. And, of course, financial solvency is completely necessary. It has been a rough road, but I appreciate those that have stood by the theater in our recent times of trouble.”

 Coming Up: Dell’Arte School first-years present 10 short melodramas of their own devising in An Evening of Melodrama, Thursday-Saturday March 20-22 at 8 p.m. in the Carlo Theatre. 707-5663,

 On Thurs. March 27 North Coast Repertory Theatre in Eureka opens The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield. Three actors perform drastically shortened and parodied versions of 37 Shakespeare plays. 442-6278,

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

The HSU production of Spinning Into Butter ends its two-weekend run in Gist Hall Theatre Thursday (March 6) through Saturday at 7:30, with the final performance at 2 p.m. on Sunday.  It's been a long time since an HSU show has been reviewed, but there are two for this one: Beti Trauth in the Mad River Union  (a rave) and Kate Haley on the A&E blog of the North Coast Journal online.  After the Thursday performance there will be an audience discussion led by Ramona Bell from the HSU Department of Critical Race, Gender and Sexuality Studies.  826-3928, HSU Stage & Screen.

Also concluding its run this weekend is Making God Laugh at Redwood Curtain.

Eureka High opens Little Shop of Horrors at 7:30 Thursday-Saturday.  441-1735,

The Redbud Theater in Willow Creek opens the Norm Foster comedy The Love List with a dinner show on Saturday March 8 (dinner at 6:45, play at 7:30.)  Performances continue the next two weekends, March 14-15, 21-22 at 7:30 p., with a Sunday matinee on March 16 at 2:30 p.m.  Tickets are available from Dream Quest.  The Love List, directed by Rick Stewart, features John Pinto, Richard Junkin and Libby Pinto.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Blanche and Blanchett

The Oscar for best performance by an actress was awarded to Kate Blanchett for her role in Blue Jasmine.  In her acceptance speech she thanked the theatre company she has been working with in Australia, and noted (here and elsewhere) that her stage training was essential for playing this role.

There's more than one reason for that.  While some critics mention its debt to A Streetcar Named Desire, the classic play by Tennessee Williams, they generally go on to quickly discuss the contemporary resonance after the high profile real estate swindles.  But this movie is almost scene for scene a reinterpretation of Streetcar, and Blanchett is very much Blanche Dubois.  It has been noted that Blanchett played that role on stage in Australia in 2008.
Blanchett as Blanche

The point of mentioning this is not to accuse anyone of anything untoward, but to note both the movie's debt to Williams' play and the fact that this cements the play's place as an authentic American myth.  I can think of only one other American play that has this mythic weight: Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. (They were first produced in New York within two years of each other.)  Miller's play has demonstrated its mythic status through a series of successful New York stage revivals and films, as well as productions in many other countries.  Now Williams' play has proven its mythic power by being powerfully adapted to different times and a different situation.