This month’s Bard on Bower productions will be as different as Beach Blanket Bingo is from the House of Cards.
Prime Stock Theatre is poised to go surf crazy with Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, while its King Lear will bring political turmoil and a more sobering madness to the outdoor stage at Red Deer’s Bower Ponds.
Audiences will first pick up some good vibrations with Twelfth Night, opening on Thursday, July 16.
In time-travelling to the mid-1960s of the Annette Funicello/Frankie Avalon beach-blanket movies, this production will be more about under-wired swimsuits and decal-festooned surfboards than petticoats, doublets or wooden galleons.
To set the breezy mood, a Surfin’ Safari soundtrack will accompany the musical comedy — thanks to live performances by Red Deer band Underside Pattern as The Beach Boys.
Twelfth Night’s kooky plot “is really like the Archie comics,” said director Thomas Usher, referring to the Betty-Archie-Veronica love triangle. Only in this case, Viola loves Duke Orsino, who loves the Countess Olivia, who loves a new man (who turns out to be Viola in gender-bending disguise).
While the convoluted story line, involving separated twins and various ruses, sounds complicated, Twelfth Night is one of the Bard’s most popular light comedies — which is why Usher feels it lends itself to the Southern California beach treatment.
“We asked at the audition whether the actors would feel comfortable wearing bathing suits,” said Usher.
As long as mosquitoes remain scarce, “it could be a good thing,” he added, “since it can get really hot on the Bower Ponds stage. …”
The 14-member cast is made up of familiar and new actors, including Erin Pettifor as beach bunny Viola. Danielle LaRose, who runs a theatre company in England and is back visiting her Central Alberta relatives, will play Olivia, while Isiah Williams will portray surfer dude Duke Orsino. Richie Jackson depicts the stooge Malvolio.
The same cast will step into more serious parts for Shakespeare’s tragedy, King Lear, which opens on Thursday, July 23.
Tom Bradshaw, who like Usher is a theatre instructor at Red Deer College, will star in the titular role that’s been portrayed by history’s greatest actors — from Richard Burbage and Edmund Kean to Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier, James Earl Jones and Christopher Plummer.
Lear is an aging monarch who, aware of his memory lapses, resolves to hand over his kingdom to his daughters in amounts that are proportional to the love they bear for him.
The tragedy is that Lear falls for the false praise and flattery dished out by his eldest daughters, while spurning the honesty of his youngest daughter, Cordelia.
In gifting his country to his greedy, ruthless daughters, Goneril and Regan, Lear inadvertently leaves a wake of political backstabbings and floor crossings. Rivals double-deal and pull stunts reminiscent of real-life politics in this province, said Usher, whose modern-dress version will contain hints of Alberta’s recent electoral upset.
Lear’s guardsmen will sport the blue of the outgoing Tory government while his daughters, who ultimately war against each other, will brandish Liberal red and other political stripes.
Goneril will be played by Rina Pelletier, Regan by Sarah Spicer and Cordelia by Nicole Leal.
Politics aside, Usher also sees a humanist underpinning to this tragedy.
Devastated by his daughters’ betrayal, Lear goes mad and wanders the wilderness, or heath. “Our wilderness will be the streets of the city,” said the director.
In becoming a homeless vagrant living on the margins of society, King Lear learns that he’s no different than anyone else. “A man is a basic creature” who needs to feel belonging, respect and love, said Usher. “It’s very telling that under every crown is just a person.”
Admission is free but donations are encouraged to both productions.
Twelfth Night runs at 7 p.m. on July 16, 17, 18, 22, 26, and 30 (also at 2 p.m. on July 25 and Aug. 1).
King Lear will be staged at 7 p.m. July 23, 24, 25, 29, 31, and Aug. 1 (also at 2 p.m. on July 26 and Aug. 2).
For the first time, a beer tent will be available at the site. As well, special performances will be held by Bull Skit and Tree House Youth Theatre on July 25 and Aug. 1.
For more information, visit www.primestocktheatre.com.