The Sacramento Shakespeare Festival is kind of like a good minor league baseball team. It's a local series put together by a mixture of professionals, community actors, and students. And just as a minor league ball team develops athletes who can reach the big leagues, this festival develops actors. Twelve years ago, actress Stephanie Gularte was a college grad playing Juliet in Land Park. Now she's a full-fledged pro, running the hottest little theater in town, Capital Stage. And this summer, Gularte's teenage daughter is in Sacramento Shakespeare, performing in a hilarious comic part.
This year's festival presents "The Taming of the Shrew," a notorious comedy about a couple who can turn almost any conversation into a feud.
Petruchio: "Good lord, how bright and goodly shines the moon."
Kate: "The moon? The sun! It is not moonlight now."
Petruchio: "I say it is the moon that shines so bright."
Kate: "I know it is the sun that shines so bright."
Petruchio: "Now by my mother's son, and that's myself, it shall be moon, or stars, or what I list, or ere we journey to thy mother's house. Go on, fetch our horses back again. Ever more, crossed and crossed, nothing but crossed."
While actors Nina Breton and Rick Eldridge spar in the leading role, the comedy is enhanced by supporting actors with exaggerated voices and mannerisms. The pace is giddy and quick, and the show doesn't take itself terribly seriously. Which is good, since Shakespeare intended this battle-of-the-sexes as a farce.
The other show this season is "As You Like It," one of those Shakespeare comedies about a plucky girl passing as a beardless young man to get ahead in the world. Director David Harris sets this production in California during the hippie years -- complete with tie-dye shirts, bell-bottom trousers, bandanas and headbands. The laid-back look dovetails with Shakespeare's script, since "As You Like It" is all about excitable young couples getting back to nature, and wooing and kissing like there's no tomorrow. But in the midst of all this, there's veteran actor Luther Hanson delivering one of Shakespeare's greatest soliloquies, describing the Seven Ages of Man.
This pithy speech lasts less than two minutes. Yet it's a show-stopper, and the image of a man's life, from infancy to old age, lingers for a long time once you've heard it. Actor Luther Hanson brings decades of experience to this famous speech, just as the festival's younger performers bring energy and exuberance to other scenes. It's this combination of professionals and amateurs that makes this low-key local series a pleasant way to enjoy summer Shakespeare in a casual setting, close to home.
The Sacramento Shakespeare Festival continues in William Land Park through July 31.