When Cal Shakes lost two of its cast members right before rehearsals for Much Ado About Nothing (which opened this week at the Bruns Amphitheatre in Orinda), the company decided to ask veteran actor Howard Swain to work double time and take on two roles. Nothing unusual about that, except that the roles were extreme opposites: He plays Don John the villain and Verges the fool. During dress rehearsals the transformation was so complete that a volunteer -- who has worked with Shakes for several years and who knows Swain -- didn't recognize him when he came out in his second incarnation as Verges. You see, gentle readers, it's a little trick called acting. It can be done, so allow me this opportunity to say, once again, pooh to such silly arguments about "cinematic integrity" (or whatever the lofty phrase was) as regards out-of-town casting. (What I refer to, of course, is one director's defense last summer that an actor needed to look the part, which often forced local theaters to fish in that vast pond called Los Angeles to find the perfect physical types.) Swain, by the way, will soon be seen as the killer scarecrow in the upcoming horror flick Scarecrow.
They Like Her, Really Like Her
Local playwright Claire Chafee just got word that the New York production of her play Why We Have a Body has won an "Oppy" -- i.e., an Oppenheimer Award, Newsday's theater prize named after its first drama critic. (The Woman's Project produced the play at off-Broadway's Judith Anderson Theater.) The selection committee included Edward Albee and Wendy Wasserstein; past winners include George Wolfe, John Robin Baitz, and Harvey Fierstein. Impressive, eh? And better yet, Chafee gets a lovely statuette and a $5,000 prize to take home from the ceremony, scheduled for late October.
Lamplighters Music Theatre traveled to Buxton, England (just a little way outside of London), last month to compete in the second International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival. More than 60 Lamplighters made the trip to perform Princess Ida at the Edwardian 1,000-seat Buxton Opera House, and at the end of the fest -- which included 12,000 participants -- John Reed, from the D'Oyly Carte G&S troupe, bestowed the grand prize for Best Performance upon our local company. (D'Oyly Carte is the original G&S company in London.) Lamplighters collected a few other awards as well: Best Male Singer went to Baker Peeples; Best Director to Barbara Heroux; and the company as a whole was named Best Overseas Society. Lamplighters' next offering in S.F. is Patience, playing Sept. 30-Nov. 5 at the Lindland Theatre, 175 Phelan.