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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

The Bard's back in Bell Buckle

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Workers start to get the set up and ready to go on the Webb School campus for this year's Tennessee Shakespeare Festival. Lamplighter Theatre Company in Smyrna helped with the production thisyear, providing set-building and rehearsal space until the troupe was ready to move to Bell Buckle.
(T-G Photo by Mary Reeves) [Order this photo]
Two sets of identical twins, a shipwreck, feuding cities, music and ... puppets?

Once again, actor/director Lane Davies brings a unique perspective of Shakespeare to Bell Buckle for this year's Tennessee Shakespeare Festival. It opens June 24 and runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until July 10.

This year's show is "The Comedy of Errors," one of the bard's first plays. It's a wild romp of a farce, filled with mistaken identities, slapstick humor and comic characters. In the original, it was set in the Greek city of Ephesus, which is feuding with the Greek city of Syracuse. Togas were the outfit du jour.

Actors Pete Vann, left, and Pat Waller perform in last year's production of "Two Gentlemen of Verona (Tenn.)."
(T-G File Photo by Mary Reeves)
Of course, Davies isn't having any of that. His main goal with the Tennessee Shakespeare festival is making Shakespeare more relevant without changing the play. He moved "A Midsummer's Night Dream," originally set to Athens, Greece, in Athens, Tenn., in the early 20th century and "Two Gentlemen of Verona" to, well, Verona, Tenn. in the 1950s.

Feud and forgiving

So where is "The Comedy of errors" taking place?

"Tug Fork, West Virginia," said Davies, laughing. "In the 1880s."

For those of you not up on your hillbilly history, that was the time and setting of a real feud -- the Hatfields and the McCoys. Only this time, Davies isn't turning the play into the feud.

"The show is about warring towns," he said. "The play will be put on by a traveling group of actors from Tennessee, a traveling show. it will be put on as a sort of healing for the feuders, because in the end all is forgiven. It's a way of making the play more accessible to our audience, especially the kids."

Another angle Davies has always sought with his productions is to bring the Bard to the next generation and get children excited about Shakespeare.

Puppets show up

That's where the puppets come in.

Remember the puppets?

In the beginning of the play, there is a long exposition, a Davies speech from Aegeon, the father of the identical twins, explaining everything that has happened up until this point. The speech goes along these lines: Mother and father have identical twin sons and get them identical twin servants. They are on a ship when a storm comes up at sea. Parents are separated, each with one half of the sets of twins. Father has come to Ephesus, thinking he might find his lost son here.

"It's the longest speech," said Davies. "And it's boring."

So instead of having the character stand and speak, the backstory is being told through a puppet show, complete with original songs, waves, a shipwreck and everything. Emmy Award-winner Bryan Hull, who directs shows at Dollywood and has the puppet shows at the Nashville Public Library, met with the interns and apprentices to teach them how to make and operated their puppets for the play.

"It should be great fun," said Davies.

Returning faces

Many of those interns will be familiar faces. Mostly Webb students, several are from Bedford County and have been helping out with the Tennessee Shakespeare Festival since it began in 2008.

There will be other familiar names and faces, too, for those who have become fans of the summer series. Jerry Winsett, who left audiences howling with his interpretation of Bottom in "A Midsummer's Night Dream" and Launce in "Two Gentlemen of Verona." Bobby Wycoff, Matthew Carlton, Martha Wilkinson, and many, many more of the actors who have graced the stage on the Webb School campus are returning. Perennial favorite Patrick Waller, who keeps busy with Nashville professional theater much of the year, is playing one of the twins, Antipholus.

Who's who?

But which Antipholus? Since both parents thought they had the same children, both sets of twins end up with the same names as their counterparts. There is Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus. There are their servants, Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus.

Confused yet? Just wait -- it gets better. There are wives and love interests, cheated merchants and bewildered policemen.

"The Comedy of Errors" is fairly unique among Shakespeare's work in that only it and "A Winter's Tale" observe Aristotle's "Unities" -- all of the action takes place within 24 hours, in one setting and with one main story line and few, if any subplots.

Of course, adding hillbillies, a traveling road show, and puppets makes it even more unique.

Still the same

Ticket prices remain unchanged this year, with festival seating tickets $5 for adults. Premium seating (under the tent, chairs provided) will be $10 a ticket if bought online in advance, and $15 at the door, with children under 12 admitted free. Everyone is encouraged to bring lawn chairs, picnic blankets, picnics, drinks and bug spray.

For more information, or to order tickets online, visit http://tennesseeshakespearefestival.com/....

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