Backstage Lake County: Shakespeare At The Lake

Shakespeare At The Lake (SATL) is ringing in its 8th year with something a little different, a dark comedy. This year’s production is Measure For Measure: The Dramatic Cut! 

Every year, Director John Tomlinson edits the script for modern audiences. This year he has cut scenes to create a more dramatic arc. He says he’s taken away the comic relief “B” story leaving the more serious “A” story that deals with darker themes like abuse of power and authority, gender roles, and overall morality. “With so many questions about our leadership here in our own country and abroad, a play like this is very relevant.”

I haven’t seen this particular show before and I was curious as to the meaning of the title. So, I did a little digging and found that even the title is a little dark, most likely coming from the bible. “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with that judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure you meet, it shall be measured unto you again. (Matthew 7:1-2) Or, more simply stated, “An eye for an eye.”

But, not to worry, even though the show is cut a little darker than what they’ve presented in the past, Tomlinson reassures us that there is still a lot of funny stuff and that he’s cast some “solid actors” who “bring the humor to their performances.”  (You can get a sneak peek at these actors by going to the Shakespeare At The Lake Facebook page. There are short bios and photos of each actor in costume along with their character names.)

This year there are quite a few new faces, including an entire family in the show. For Tomlinson, one of his personal highlights this year was the auditions. Thirteen-year-old Caitlynn McGee very much wanted to audition for this play. Her desire to be in the play was so infectious that her parents also came along to audition. “Now, the three of them are playing 3 of the major roles in the play, Lucio, Isabella and Angelo. We are grateful for her and she is great in what will be her debut theatre performance anywhere.”

Ed Borg, who plays Escalus and who has been in all 8 SATL productions, echoes Tomlinson’s sentiments. “This year, we have a lot of new people in principle roles.  And some incredibly talented 14 and 15-year-olds. Just really talented kids. Solid actors who bring a lot of fun energy.” Along with McGee, who plays Lucio, there is Luke Del Bosco, who plays Claudio, and Emily Fordham, who plays Juliet.

Because many in the cast were new to acting or new to Shakespeare, Tomlinson said, “I intentionally drew more on the creativity of the group, and our ability to create through collaboration. We spent a couple of weeks more than normal just talking about the script. How the character works, and how the story works. Who loves whom, who hates whom, and all of the fun details of the story. This, in turn led to a deeper level of creative involvement for all of our cast members, and we hope it shows in the production”

Borg had praise for Tomlinson and the way in which he conducts rehearsals. “John has a way of making you dig into the characters and ask questions. He’s very keen on word order and keeping things the way they are worded in the script. “Did not you say…?’ as opposed to ‘Didn’t you say…?’ for example. You really have to understand what you are saying.”

“And, he always has an interesting take on casting. He always casts the best person for the part without regard to gender.” And this production is no different, as there are multiple women playing men. Borg remarked that one of the female teens, playing a male, has some very bawdy dialogue. He then deadpanned that he supposed it was okay with her parents since they are also in the play, and the exchanges are primarily with her mother, who is playing opposite her character.

For those of you, like me, that don’t know the show, it is about a ruler, Duke Vincentio, played by Schuyler Marcier, whose city has been operating with very loose laws. He has allowed this to happen, but he doesn’t think that he should be the one to enforce a stricter code. He leaves his deputy, Angelo (Adam McGee), in charge on the pretense of going out of town, but instead hides out in town keeping an eye on things while pretending to be a friar.

Angelo takes the opportunity to make some changes and reinstates an old forgotten law. The play proceeds to explore how the new ruler does with an increased scope of authority and the idea that absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Enter Claudio, a young man who has gotten Juliet, the girl he plans to marry, pregnant. Angelo decides to make an example of him. Claudio implores his sister, Isabella to convince Angelo to spare his life. Instead, Angelo offers to let her brother go if she will sleep with him. Did I mention that Isabella is to become a nun soon?

At first, when Claudio hears the news, he is indignant and agrees of course she cannot sleep with Angelo. And, yet, also tells her he does not wish to die. The still-disguised Duke complicates things even more. In his capacity as a friar, he tells Claudio to prepare for death. He then devises a plan for Isabella (still disguised as a friar) that involves Mariana, someone that Angelo was romantically involved with in the past (and whom he had treated very badly). 

Good ‘ol Shakespearean hijinks ensue until Angelo’s hypocrisy is found out; the Duke saves the day; and the audience can see that the Duke has been the master puppeteer the whole time. One has to wonder if Shakespeare wrote the play specifically with King James in mind to flatter him or perhaps even to show him how to be a fair and just ruler. We may never know, but that won’t stop anyone from having a good time watching all of the antics unfold.

I’ve attended several SATL productions. Some were set in the 60s, some in modern times, and I believe last year’s production was even set in outer space. This year’s production brings a more traditional feel and is set in the Renaissance era with period costumes. There is a minimalist set and a guitarist on stage playing Renaissance music.

SATL has evolved over the last eight years since its inception, adding a second venue with extra performances and bringing in local food and beverages vendors for each performance. This year they’ve added pre-show entertainment. Faire Measure, a string quartet featuring Renaissance-era music, will entertain the audience an hour prior to curtain. 

And, they’ve added a photo contest sponsored by the Clear Lake Campground.  Attend one (or more) of the free performances, take some amazing pictures of the show, and then post them to the Shakespeare At The Lake Facebook page by August 8th at 11:59 pm. The photos that get the most reactions on their Facebook page will win. Voting closes on August 12 at 11:59 pm. First place will receive $150, second place $100, and third place $50. 

Grab a blanket or chair and come experience a fun show at one of two beautiful outdoor venues. Performances are free and take place at: Library Park in Lakeport on July 29 and 30 and Austin Park in Clearlake on Aug. 4, 5, and 6.  Pre-show entertainment and food/beverage sales begin at 6 p.m. The show begins at 7 p.m. 

Shakespeare At The Lake is a co-production of the Lake County Theatre Company and Mendocino College, with generous support from the Lake County Friends of Mendocino College, the City of Lakeport, the City of Clearlake and the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce.

Charise Reynolds


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