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Shake it up

The outdoor Central Coast Shakespeare Festival comes but once a year

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TAKE IT ALL OFF :  Madame Sécurité at work on one of her conquests. - PHOTO BY ADRIAN PEREZ
  • PHOTO BY ADRIAN PEREZ
  • TAKE IT ALL OFF : Madame Sécurité at work on one of her conquests.
Nature and theater unite at this summer’s Central Coast Shakespeare Festival (CCSF), staged at the serene River Oaks Amphitheatre outdoors in Paso Robles. Two plays, Freyda Thomas’s The Gamester and William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, are running in repertory during the next four weekends. Having alternating plays each week allows the same company of performers to act in both. As director Cynthia Totten and artistic director Zoe Saba attest, if you see one, you will definitely want to return for the other. CCSF is a nonprofit theater, which means every person involved contributes as a volunteer.

The 2010 CCSF opened on July 9 with a performance of The Gamester. Thomas based her play on Jean-Francois Regnard’s Le Joueur (1696). Set in Paris, the play follows a group of men and women who are all affected by compulsive gambling, their own or that of a loved one. As the sun sets and the wind dies down, the frilly period costumes and comedic banter of the sex-starved widows, obsessive gamblers, exasperated servants, maidens, and wealthy patriarchs carries the audience through a rollercoaster of events. Written in rhyming couplets, the dialogue has a fun rhythm with some obvious puns and some unexpected twists, yet has been carefully crafted to maintain the rhythm and intonation of natural speech. Occasionally you might hear a couplet reminiscent of Dr. Seuss as it paints an alliterative image.

PHOTO BY ADRIAN PEREZ
  • PHOTO BY ADRIAN PEREZ
I attended the show following opening night and was surprised by the intimate venue. The seating area on a grassy hill naturally slopes down to the concrete stage, which supports a raised wooden platform on stilts. This casual arrangement allows the audience to sit within a few feet of the actors. The atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable, with blankets, low-backed chairs and picnic baskets gathered in a natural amphitheatre replete with stadium seating any movie theater would envy.

As the play begins, it becomes clear the audience is expected to interact with the players, as characters appeal to the audience in several asides, asking questions and moving freely among the spectators. The motivations and inner thoughts of the characters are as transparent to the audience as the backstage.  Seen through the stilts of the wooden platform, the area backstage includes a lake and a green on the River Oaks golf course.

The Gamester was chosen because it makes references to Shakespeare and quotes some of his characters. Twelfth Night and The Gamester share similar themes, such as role reversals between the sexes, grieving widows, and mistaken identity. The widow Madame Sécurité, a drunken nymphomaniac who pays men to have sex with her, displays her vices blatantly and without apology.

- MARK YOUR CALENDAR:  The two plays run on most Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings through Aug. 14. Tickets are $20 ($18 for students and seniors). For specific dates, info and tickets visit centralcoastshakespeare.org or call 546-4224. -
  • MARK YOUR CALENDAR: The two plays run on most Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings through Aug. 14. Tickets are $20 ($18 for students and seniors). For specific dates, info and tickets visit centralcoastshakespeare.org or call 546-4224.
The widow wields a whip and drinks far too much Pinot Noir. Valere, a young heir addicted to gambling, is willing to give up love and money for the risk and thrill gaming provides. As he says, life is so dull without the game. The play reveals what can happen when someone succumbs to vices. The extremes keep the audience enthralled. In The Gamester, the climactic showdown occurs in a gambling hall, where the characters converge to catch Valere betraying his promise not to gamble. In this setting, disguised characters are gambling with honor and love in addition to money. Together the characters weave a multi-faceted plot layered with emotional success and defeat. As Totten says, to tell the story “we have to trace the life and arc of each character.”

The CCSF provides a great opportunity to see theatre in a beautiful and intimate outdoor setting. The only distraction from the stage is the occasional guttural croaking of the lake’s resident bullfrog and the distant rumbling of trains. During the performance I saw, not a single cell phone rang and children were unobtrusive. Folks reclined, wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags, sipped wine, munched sandwiches, and savored the exploits of a time long past, whose themes still ring true. Outdoor Shakespeare performances, the epitome of summer entertainment, should be a staple in every community. I’ll see you at Twelfth Night: You bring the cheese— I’ll supply the crackers.

Arielle Perez likes to be entertained. Send stories and jokes via Ashley Schwellenbach to aschwellenbach@newtimesslo.com

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