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Will Bill

North Bay's open spaces prepare for the best of the Bard

By David Templeton

Among the many particular joys that make summer in the North Bay so delicious are local thespians' penchant for producing Shakespeare epics in big, open places. Over the years, a number of open-air Shakespeare events have arisen, from the classy Shakespeare at Stinson to the cozy Sebastopol Shakespeare Festival. Last year, Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties boasted no less than six separate Shakespeare happenings with a total of 10 distinct plays.

This year, the stage is set for even more Elizabethan fun as a brand-new company brings several weekends of free Shakespeare to the Windsor Town Green, amounting to a total of 14 distinct productions to be held out under the nighttime skies all across the three counties. Oops, make that two counties; with the Napa Shakespeare Festival still shut down with budgetary woes, and with nothing Bard-like going on at the Napa Community College, it's up to Sonoma and Marin counties to fill the Will bill. And fill it they shall. Here, in hunched brevity, are some of the highlights.

The eccentric and eclectic Shakespeare at Stinson festival (www.shakespeareatstinson.org) appears to have an "oppressive regime" theme going on this summer, as it kicks off with Shakespeare's entertaining vision of poor England under the control of a megalomaniac hunchback in Richard III (Dick 3 for short, running through June 26), then moves on to Tom Stoppard's eerie-funny Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (July 8-Aug. 14), a reimagining of Hamlet set in a creepy police-state Elsinore and told from the point of view of Shakespeare's two least self-actualized characters. The festival ends with director Hector Correa's production of Kander and Ebb's Cabaret (Aug. 19-Oct. 9), set in pre-WW II Berlin and featuring no Shakespeareans but plenty of half-naked dancing girls. 415.868.1115.

The grand and glorious Marin Shakespeare Company festival (www.marinshakespeare.org), held as ever at Dominican's magical Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, appears this year to be a celebration of the mismatched Italian couple, launching in July with Shakespeare's crazy buddy-comedy Two Gentlemen of Verona (July 8-Aug. 14) and concluding in August with the ever-popular meditation on young love and poor communication, Romeo and Juliet (Aug. 26-Sept. 25). Adding some weirdness to the mix, Marin Shakespeare will also be letting loose with a Monty Python-esque staging of Beaumont and Fletcher's farcical Jamesian laugh-fest The Knight of the Burning Pestle (July 15-Aug. 14).

Melodrama trades off with mellow comedy in Sebastopol's Ives Park, as the Sebastopol Shakespeare Festival, presented by the Sonoma County Repertory Theater (www.the-rep.com), takes to the outdoor stage with A Bad Day at Gopher's Breath (July 8-July 17), which organizers describe as "a great romantic drama of the Wild West" and which features rival gangs of bank robbers facing off on one particularly bad day. After a brief overlay indoors for a Main Street Theatre run of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (July 22-Aug. 7), they return to the park for the gender-bending Twelfth Night (Aug. 12-21). 707.823.0177.

Though it's uncertain whether Carl Hamilton's fledgling Sandlot Shakespeare company (www.sandlotshakespeare.com) will be back at Gundlach Bundschu Winery this summer, Kate Kennedy's Avalon Players (www.sonomashakespeare.com) will definitely return to Gundlach Bundschu with a double-whammy featuring this year's other production of Romeo and Juliet (July 15-24), as well as Shakespeare's two-pairs-of-twins-separated-at-birth farce A Comedy of Errors (Aug. 19-Sept. 4). 707.996.3234.

This brings us to the new kids on the block, Windsor's ambitious (and totally free!) Shakespeare on the Green festival (July 22-Aug. 14), stampeding out of the gate with a 12-perfomance run of two Shakespeare plays: A Midsummer Night's Dream (bad fathers, drugged lovers, tricksy fairies, donkey-headed thespians) and Much Ado about Nothing (spontaneous betrothals, love under false pretenses, improbable conclusions). With a board of directors that includes former SCR director Jim dePriest, the freshman venture looks to be the real thing, with weekend performances on Windsor's Town Green preceded by such fun stuff as jugglers and morris dancers. 707.529.3453.

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From the May 25-31, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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