However, Lake Tahoe’s beaches and bright stars fit that description and again set the perfect stage for the festival’s 38th year.
Although the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival’s Sand Harbor location remains the same, loyal audience members will notice a few changes this year: A troupe of three actors — yes, only three — performs the complete works of Shakespeare — yes, abridged — and makes the audience laugh the entire time.
Prior to Saturday’s performance, the festival’s artistic director Charles Fee addressed the audience in an effort to remind both loyal and new attendees that the nonprofit relies on donations from the community.
In a moment of tension in the crowd, a rumble of curious pessimism held heavy in the air. By now people noticed only three actors would be performing more than 30 plays.
As Fee departed, actors Lynn Robert Berg, Jeffery C. Hawkins and M.A. Taylor entered the stage with an ambitious task — make the crowd happy by performing 37 Shakespeare plays in about two hours. The math equates to one play every three minutes. Impossible? They proved not.
The trio livened up the festival’s opening audience with their comedic timing and witty delivery in less time than it took for people to do the math about the performance. The three men couldn’t pull off every word of every Shakespeare play in two hours, but they performed a wonderful synopsis and overall explanation of what audience members might not have garnered from their high school English teachers.
Beginning with “Romeo and Juliet,” the troupe of men quickly posed a problem for the politically correct audience: Who will perform Juliet? Well, the man with a goatee, of course.
Adding to Berg and Taylor’s hilarious antics prior to the performance, the men chased each other around the stage clad in Converse Chuck Taylor shoes with Elizabethan-era garb as well as the occasional hospital gown-style dress for Taylor, who played a convincingly ditzy Juliet.
Although Romeo and Juliet’s fates are famously sealed, Taylor rewrites Shakespearean history with a deadly handshake to Berg, not a kiss — though Berg’s Romeo was determined to stay true to the script.
Making sure to even out the modified romance between Shakespeare’s conflicted teen couple, the troupe quickly switched gears and followed up “Romeo and Juliet” with the significantly more dramatic “Titus Andronicus,” done with a notable tribute to famous cooking host Julia Child.
For such a cringe-inducing Shakespeare drama, the trio pulled it off with style and flair, making the fairly heavy blood-and-guts plot line laughable. Yes, laughable.
Steadily plodding through the 37 tales, Berg, Hawkins and Taylor decided to make their own play in order to best explain Shakespeare’s 16 romantic comedies and the men do so perfectly.
Although Hawkins is missing most of the action until the second act, as a narrator he commands the stage. But then again, any man wearing pink tights with black Converse and bloomer-style pants delivering Shakespearean punchlines in a nonchalant manner certainly commands attention.
Stepping up in the second act, Hawkins plays Prince Hamlet, who seems to have more drama than the characters in the other 36 plays. Hawkins’ performance of the prince leads him to an identity crisis — cue Edward. Yes, we are referring here to the Edward of “Twilight” fame.
Although “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” seems ambitious, it could possibly be one of the best performances the festival has had in years. Sure, there aren’t large sets that change from scene to scene. Sure, there is a man with a goatee constantly playing female roles. And sure, the addition of pop culture references could arguably taint the works for Shakespearean devotees.
But with nearly every audience member laughing for more than two hours, the trade-off is worth it. The plays are written in a way that is relatable and understandable. More than half of the play is delivered in early modern English and the comedic timing and witty banter combined with the well-performed interaction between the three actors makes Shakespeare fun for the people who might live in fear of the Bard.
Daily performances continue through Aug. 22 except on Mondays and Fridays when the Sand Harbor Music Series host performers from different musical genres weekly.
Ticket prices range from $14 to $72 for weekday performances and $19 to $77 for weekend performances depending on seating. There is also a shuttle from Reno to the festival for an addition $20 or from Incline Village for $10.
For ticket information, visit www.laketahoeshakespeare.com. Information for the music festival can be found at the website as well.
Music Series Performances
July 16 – Sugaray (blues and soul music)
July 19 – Cecilia Noel (Latin salsa)
July 23 – Mitch Forman (jazz)
July 26 – Café R&B (blues)
July 30 – Mrs. Robinson (hits from the ‘60s and ‘70s)
Aug. 2 – Paul Thorn (Southern rock)
Aug. 6 – Royal Crown Revue (gangster swing)
Aug. 9 – Sugaray (blues and soul music)
Aug. 13 – Cecilia Noel (Latin salsa)
Aug. 16 – Karen Briggs (violinist)
Aug. 20 – Orgone (funk, solo and Afro-beats)
For more information, visit www.laketahoeshakespeare.com