O.C. Register Review: ‘Sonnets, Songs’ a fun introduction to Shakespeare

featured image by Jordan Kubat

reposted from the O.C. Register. Read original article HERE.



Imagine a vaudeville skit that incorporates a generous helping of William Shakespeare’s sonnets, some set to music, and uses a lighthearted storyline to connect them.

That’s “Sonnets, Songs and Sorry Will’s Been Dead 400 Years!” Shakespeare Orange County commissioned playwright and screenwriter Allison Volk to write an original piece to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1616.

Presented on the Mike Fountain Stage (patio area) of Garden Grove’s Festival Amphitheatre, the show stars Volk and four SOC company members, with an ensemble of 10 student actors from Orange County School of the Arts’ Acting Conservatory, part of SOC’s Youth in Theatre program.

“Sonnets, Songs and Sorry” cleverly ties in with SOC’s concurrent staging of “Hamlet,” casting the actors as understudies of that production.

 ‘Sonnets, Songs, and Sorry Will’s Been Dead 400 Years’

 Where: Mike Fountain Stage, Festival Amphitheater, 12762 Main St., Garden Grove

 When: 7 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 7

 How much: $20-$40

 Length: 1 hour, 25 minutes

 Suitability: All ages

 Call: 714-590-1575

 Online: shakespeareoc.org

The play begins with a recent discovery by two genetic scientists. It had long been believed the Shakespeare line had died out some time in the 1600s, but in fact, a direct descendant of the Bard has been traced and tracked down.

Living on a hidden farm in rural England, Willard Shakespeare (student Samuel Matthews) decides to exploit his newfound fame by conducting a search of his own – for “the most Shakespearean Shakespeare company in the world.”

One evening while hanging around backstage, SOC’s actors read a newspaper item that the last surviving Shakespeare will be in the audience for that night’s performance of “Hamlet.”

Propmistress Emilia (Volk) realizes this is her chance to achieve the major fame she has long sought, so she recites the same sonnet (number 55) that helped propel her to a sixth-runner-up spot in a beauty contest in her native Wisconsin, her sole claim to fame (thus far).

Directed by Colin T. Martin, the play follows the antics of Emilia and the rest of the company. Like any Shakespeare comedy, it features instances of characters sick with love for someone who barely notices them or mistakenly thinking one colleague loves another.

Emilia, who’s in love with Willard, is loved from afar by castmate Valentino (Patrick Peterson). Actor Claudio (Nicholas Thurkettle), a burly Scotsman cast as the ghost of Hamlet’s father, loves Bea (Sonja Inge), who thinks he’s in love not with her, but with Emilia.

As with any light Elizabethan-era comedy, “Sonnets, Songs and Sorry” also offers slapstick and physical humor as well as characters who cross-dress. Volk even works in a clever reference to David Denman, the Orange County-raised film and TV actor who stars in Shakespeare Orange County’s “Hamlet.”

The Puck-ish Peto (Benjamin Horowitz) convinces Emilia to disguise herself as a boy (to discourage Claudio’s advances) and Valentino as a girl (to get closer to Emilia and learn more about her). While Volk’s “Emilio” is an earnest young lad, Peterson’s “Valentina” is more overtly comical, coming off like a peeved, effeminate Tim Robbins.

The sonnets, among Shakespeare’s most profound reflections on the subjects of love, romance, beauty and mortality, are lent an informal, throwaway feel, recited in passing by the various characters. As such, they serve better as a casual introduction to these cherished metaphysical poems.

Arguably Shakespeare’s most famous Sonnet, number 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”), is recited by Claudio and, later, performed in musical/rhythmic fashion by five student actors, as two more dance to it.

Adding vaudeville flavor are a fight between Claudio and Peto that’s much like a staged pro-wrestling match and a “sock-off” where spectators are encouraged to use rolled-up socks to pelt student actors reciting sonnets.

Older audience members will obtain the full meaning and impact of the sonnets. At the same time, with its youthful cast, playful tone, loose format and simple, straightforward characters and dialogue, “Sonnets, Songs and Sorry Will’s Been Dead 400 Years” seems better suited for young audiences, serving as an introduction to the world of Shakespeare.

Contact the writer: emarchesewriter@gmail.com