Lighten Up

Julius Caesar overplays Shakespeare's cynical theme; Connecticut Yankee engages with sweet silliness

A silly plot, which is just an excuse to get us to Camelot, begins in 1943 with Martin Barrett (Joseph Lustig) about to marry Fay Morgan (Lesley Hamilton), though his true love is Alice Carter (Stephanie Rhoads). There is a scuffle, Martin is knocked out, and he wakes up on the road to Camelot on June 21, 543.

That's an important date, which he recalls as famous for a solar eclipse. He is captured and nearly burned at the stake until the solar phenomenon -- which he appears to have conjured -- turns him into a master magician in the eyes of King Arthur (Martin Beal) and his simple folk. Arthur's sister, Morgan La Fay (Hamilton again), arrives looking for another husband. She keeps bumping them off, it seems. Naturally, she is after the handsome Martin, but he meets Alisande (Rhoads again), recognizes his own true love, and resolves to marry only her.

It's all great fun, and along the way are several delightful performances (notably Lustig as the hero and Hamilton as the wicked Fay) and some deliciously witty lyrics. Not to mention the music, which features the fabulous "My Heart Stood Still" and "Thou Swell." The actors in this company love what they're doing, and their sheer enjoyment keeps the show buoyant and engaging. Never mind the contrived plot. Just enjoy those songs.

Julius Caesar runs through July 2 at the California Shakespeare Festival in Orinda; call (510) 548-9666. A Connecticut Yankee runs through June 25 at the New Conservatory Theater in S.F.; call 861-8972.

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