Shakespeare's work alive and well done at Sand Harbor

Shakespeare's work is alive and well with two performances of his plays in repertory at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival at Sand Harbor.

Through Aug. 22, "Much Ado About Nothing" and "As You Like It" will be presented on alternate nights. "Ado" is presented Sunday and Tuesday, with "Like It" this Wednesday.

Both are in Shakespeare's comedy category, although both have moments less than humorous and strangely dark. Wednesday night the cast was in fine form for the audience of several hundred in beach chairs on blankets in the sand of Sand Harbor.

"Much Ado" belies its title as there is something going on here. Transposed to the turn of the 19th century from an unspecified period and Sausalito from Messina, the story concerns soldiers returning from the Spanish-American War in the Philippines. Don Padre, Benedick and Claudio arrive and visit the mayor, Leanato. There's also Don Padre's bastard brother Don John, who did poorly in the war, just as Claudio performed brilliantly. Claudio falls for Leanato's daughter Hero while Benedick strikes sparks of an unfriendly kind from Hero's cousin Beatrice.

From there things get complex as Benedick and Beatrice trade insults while Claudio and Hero trade sappy looks. Don John sets afoot a plot to spoil the marriage of Claudio and Hero while Benedick and Beatrice battle. In the end all's well as the couples weather the twists of the plot, the bad guy is punished and general merriment reigns.

But getting there isn't easy. There are some dark moments involved, such as when Leanato believes a scandal falsely applied to Hero as part of Don John's plot. Fathers generally would want more evidence of infidelity before tossing a daughter out of the house. Shakespeare has a way of making simple things not so simple when carefully examined.

But never mind that. This is a fine play, beautifully performed by the Foothill Theatre Company, veterans of the windy and cool Sand Harbor stage.

Kelli DuFresne 7/24/04 could cut from here to break if need space, or plunk this into a bkoutSteven Patterson as Don Pedro was impressively commanding with a fine mustache. A.J. Schuermann as Don John was bulkingly hulking.

Justin Martindale offered a youthful, naive Claudio, while Tim Kniffin simply owned the stage whenever he appeared. He has a fine way of blending movement to words (the old objective correlative), mugs with skill and generally is the strongman of the show.

This is not to overlook fine performances by High Dignon as Leonato, and Michael Moereman, who makes a lot out of his role as the chief of police. His timing is impeccable and witty.

Emily Van Fleet is a comely Hero, easy to visualize as a girl who would lure Claudio to her side, or at least somewhere nearby.

Matching Kniffin in authority on stage is Rebecca Dines as Beatrice. She shows a fine sense of sarcasm tied to more violent moments on stage. But her final turnabout and admission of love for Benedick is both warm and convincing.

Friar Francis, played by Barzin Akhaven, is the regular Shakespeare pivotal character who slows the action to an easily followed pace. There isn't a weak performance on the boards of this "Much Ado About Nothing."

Direction is firm with a constant layer of humor. Philip Charles Sneed didn't miss a trick or leave any line of dialog slip by without matching action.

Plenty of food, from sushi to ribs, beer and wine and desserts are available from booths leading to the stage, and beach chairs are available for rent. And perhaps best of all, the night sky and the dark lake offer a marvelous setting for the finest writer in the English language. Don't miss this chance to enjoy him.


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