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Shakespeare's quick wit at Petaluma's Adobe State Historic Park

Local history question of the day: What's the city's oldest house?

Why, the Old Adobe, of course, built by Generalissimo Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo in the 1830s. Now the building and its remaining acreage is a state park. It is also, for the next two weekends, an outdoor theater where Shakespeare's "Two Gentlemen of Verona Sonoma" is being presented.

As producer Philip Sales commented in his remarks to the opening night audience, "to the best of our knowledge, this is the first Shakespeare to be presented at the Old Adobe." This reviewer hopes it won't be the last.

One of the splendid aspects of Shakespeare's plays is their infinite adaptability. Thus changing the location of the play from Italy's Verona and Milan to Napa and Petaluma; switching the time frame to 1846, just prior to the Bear Flag rebellion, and using Vallejo and Sacramento's Captain John Sutter as characters in the play-well, it all works.

"It is," Sales said, "just a different way of looking at Shakespeare." The play has been adapted to the location by director Lucas McClure, education manager at Marin Shakespeare Company.

Not only are patrons treated to Shakespeare al fresco, but the performances are a benefit, a fundraiser for Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park or, swiping a quote from the play, "making a virtue of necessity."

The courtyard of the Old Adobe makes a good outdoor theater and the actors heed Hamlet's wise words, to "speak the speech … trippingly on the tongue." Words are not rushed, and the beauty of the Bard's language comes through. Clearly these actors are not new to Shakespeare.

McClure and Sales have assembled a uniformly good cast. Particularly enjoyable are Aidan O'Reilly as Valentine and Jon Robin as Proteus, the "Two Gentlemen" of the title. And although all the diction was first-rate, Jocelynn Murphy's clear speech as Lucetta was excellent. Neal Fishman is to be commended for his hirsute channeling of Vallejo's muttonchops and David O'Connell played Sutter as a deliciously threatening bad boy.

"Two Gents" is one of Shakespeare's early plays, light and funny. The plot doesn't stand up to close examination, but so what? This is an enjoyable, fast-paced romp. "Two Gentlemen of Verona" according to theater manager Philip Henslowe in "Shakespeare in Love," is the perfect play. It gives the audience what it wants, "love, and a bit with a dog."

There is no better storyteller than Shakespeare, McClure writes in his program notes, "and laughter is the best medicine. We can only hope you enjoy our pseudo-historical-tragical-musical-comical cathartic journey here at Sonoma County's historic treasure that is the Petaluma Adobe."

It plays two more weekends. It's rare that Petaluma has a chance to host The Bard, so don't miss this opportunity. Hie thee hence to the Old Adobe.

(Contact Katie Watts at argus@arguscourier.com)


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