Hear ye, hear ye! Shakespeare at Stinson Beach is now North Bay Shakespeare located in Novato. There’s definitely some give and take in the move. No more pre-performance beach walks, and you can bid adieu to the intimacy of the Stinson location amidst the flowers and the trees. The new digs are located about fifteen minutes down the road (Highway 101) at the Hamilton Amphitheater Park in Novato. After a short trek through the park, you’ll enter a beautiful, large stone amphitheatre set amidst the trees. Perhaps North Bay will stage something ancient next season. A gory Titus or the heart wrenching “Et tu, Brute?” The entire amphitheatre could be the stage. Just a critic’s suggestion… Artistic Director Jeffrey Trotter is still the consummate host, and as before, there’s preshow picnicking; you can bring your own, or preorder quite the gourmet spread from Café Joel, and North Bay Shakes will have your feast waiting for your arrival. Of notable interest are the real bathrooms. No more portable rigmarole, thank the gods.
Director MaryBeth Cavanaugh hits us with a provocative production, although the acting is sometimes uneven. The stage is not much to speak of at first glance. Mirroring left to right stand red partitions, torn black curtains, two pillars serving no particular purpose in front of a blue curtained backdrop, and a black and white stage floor designed with diamond patterns. There seems to be method here, however, with the stage resembling the colors and design of Arlecchino (a.k.a. Harlequin), the fool from the Italian Commedia dell'arte. Kalli Jonsson plays the corresponding Fool, Feste, as an intriguing, although cynical, weathered character who offers mildly energetic riddles and even less boisterous songs when not sipping from a small bottle of something at the perimeter of the stage. Perhaps there’s method here, as well. There’s a battle underway in this play, as well as in Shakespeare’s England, pitting festive and saturnalian disorderliness against the Puritanical pressures in Shakespeare’s post-Reformation England.In one corner, there’s the hysterical team of Sir Toby Belch (Kevin Karrick) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Gendell Hernandez) versus the sour and dour Malvolio (played to perfection by grand comedian Clive Worsley) in the other, while Jonsson’s Feste is pitted somewhere in the middle of it all.Karrick is the equivalent of a middle aged frat boy—complete with Hawaiian and cocktail—while Hernandez represents his real-life Cuban heritage, sporting a “CUBA” jogging suit with breakaway pants and a stereotypically fiery temperament. One doesn’t really get the notion that Belch is taking advantage of the financially-advantageous Aguecheek in this production; rather, the two stick together like tacky glue, riding the coattails of Mardi-Gras (a place one might find a Harlequin or ten) or enacting “Bottle Rocket”—like heists with hysterical “ca-caws” before staging a drop-and-roll.
At the other end of the spectrum is Malvolio. Worsley is a petite man wearing a three-piece suit and bowtie as well as a Squiggmann of hair that juts from his forehead. He leans far back when he speaks and moves not his upper body when he walks, keeping his elbows close to his sides while his hands do the talking. One can’t help but laugh as Worsley calls upon every ounce of Stanislavski training he’s had when cracking a smile on his perfectly sour puss, or when he does a solitary tango, of sorts, ‘round the stage while donning his yellow, cross gartered stockings for the beauteous Olivia (Camille Thornton-Alson). But when Worsley is imprisoned and left to the medieval and Freudian pseudotherapy of “Sir Topaz,” laughter becomes uncomfortable and comingled with sympathy and perhaps a bit of empathy for one who is vilely wronged and publicly humiliated. Frankly, I’d like to see Malvolio in a sequel all his own. I’d like to see him get his revenge, and I’d like to see Worsley represent.
Our protagonist, Viola/Cesario, is sometimes as bland as her ill-fitting khakis, white button-down and tennies (get this wo/man to a fashion consultant, please!), but the somewhat masculine Valerie Weak is brilliant in soliloquy, and proves a frighteningly spot on mirror for her long lost twin brother, Sebastian, played by the somewhat feminine and unfortunately more bland than brilliant Robert Bergin.Bergin’s interactions with Antonio (G. Randall Wright) are flaccid, with any possible love interest (as it is oftentimes played) between the two left undeveloped. Viola is a far cry from the crème de la crème of Shakespeare’s strong women. She’s no Portia, and she’s certainly no Rosalind, but Weak does a strong job of portraying a woman who is dressed as a man who has no idea how to act like a man, but somehow pulls it off. And speaking of pulling it off, Weak’s grand reveal falls flat as she removes her shirt and Chiron Alston (Orsino) unbinds her breasts to an end that reiterates that this is a family-friendly theatre. A bit more risk (tasteful, of course) would provide an impact, and would likely fill the amphitheatre.
Violinist Paul Festa provides much of the music in this production, with Alston accompanying every note with a dramatic, lovesick sigh. Jonsson’s Feste is a tad out of tune, but his songs are sometimes strengthened by Cara Burgoyne's (Maria) charming voice. Antithesis reaches its peak and direction achieves a bit of genius when the always drunk Belch and Aguecheek exchange lines in defiance of Malvolio’s demands for midnight silence in his lady’s house to the tune of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are.” Later, Festa opens the second half of the play with the tune on his violin, and one can’t help but recount the lyrics, filled with depressing antitheses and destructive images, only to be followed by Olivia, who backs onto the stage and out of her state of mourning in order to sweetly conjure and prepare for scenarios with her supposed love interest, Cesario.
But back to Feste, whose name represents the spirit of the Sir Toby’s and Aguecheek’s festival, and is the polar opposite to the ill-will demonstrated in Malvolio’s name. Jonsson seems to be stuck in the middle of both. As the Fool, he riddles and sings, and he tricks the others for fun and out of their coins. In the beginning of the play, other characters embrace him with explosive joy upon sight. He is also, oftentimes, a spectator to the action on this stage, left in disregard on the perimeter in his long and worn, neutrally-colored coat, and with an unused drum slung around his shoulder. When left on his own, he watches, he sleeps, or he drinks from his small bottle, always with an air of sadness.Jonsson’s eyes are blackened in the shape of diamonds, and a single tear is outlined underneath, reiterating the antithesis of his spirit, and of the play, in general. As the sky darkens in Novato, this festive Fool turns ghoulish when the stage strategically lights his face from below. Once embraced, he is now left alone to end the play on a dour note, with Kurt Cobain’s repetitious “memoria” circling the stage.