Giving difficult works a new twist is something the Butterfield 8 Theatre Company does with style. Whether it's Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" performed with the audience seated at cozy tea tables and the action taking place all around or a double cast version of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" with all male performers one night and all female performers the next, Butterfield 8 loves a challenge. Currently, they have attempted perhaps their most challenging project to date -- Shakespeare's emotionally-charged "Othello."
Directed by John Butterfield with assistance from Eddie Peabody (who also choreographed the fight sequences), this "Othello" features women in the men's roles and men in the three women's roles. Butterfield says in his director notes that the company was interested in seeing how women would perceive the male military world and how men would react playing characters without station or power. This exceedingly interesting concept played out with mixed success.
It's possible the lack of testosterone made the confrontational scenes lack energy and tension or it could be the pacing was off because of several last minute cast changes and a flu bug that hit a majority of performers. With only two weeks' rehearsal, Beth Chastain took on Iago, and thanks to her well-wrought performance, she made the script (encased in an ornately carved leather folder) all but disappear. Elinor Bell as Roderigo not only had all the manly moves perfected, her comedic flair made her the center of attention whenever she appeared.
Also conveying the complex emotions of their characters, regardless of gender, were Jake Breckinridge (a gentle, disarming Desdemona) and Butterfield (marvelous as Iago's wife Emilia). Unfortunately, Sam Selliman, as Othello, had difficulty conveying the deeper emotions required, and the fact that she read most of her lines from the script and often spoke with her back to the audience, did not help.
The set (designed by Butterfield and Peabody), however, worked very well, with the elaborately curtained bed a prominent fixture, reminding everyone of what was to come. Liz Martin's elaborate costumes were a treat to the eye.
"Othello" runs through March 24 at Cue Productions Live in Concord. Call or go to www.8bcompany.com
On a lighter note, Fantasy Forum Ensemble presents "Jack and the Beanstalk" March 14-17 at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts.
Scott Denison directs this original family-friendly musical, with Michael Wiles as musical director. The cast features Kerri Shawn, Jennifer Perry, Jasen Jeffrey, Amanda Denison, Andrew Humann and Vince Perry. Call 925-943-SHOW or go to www.lesherartscenter.org.
Woodminster's summer musicals get a head start and a different location this year. The company will perform "Little Shop of Horrors" March 14-24 at the Valley Center for Performing Arts at Holy Names University, 3500 Mountain Blvd. in Oakland.
The show features Contra Costa's own Stu Klitsner as Mushnik, the owner of the flower shop.
"Performing indoors is a change for us, but at this time of year, we think our audiences will gladly trade the starry night sky for a roof," says managing director Harriet Schlader. The company will be back at Woodminster Amphitheater in July with "Annie Get Your Gun," followed by "A Chorus Line" and "Legally Blonde: The Musical." For more information, go to www.woodminster.com.
Lots of auditions take place this month. Castro Valley's Chanticleers Theatre will hold auditions on March 25-26 at 7 p.m. for Agatha Christie's "The Unexpected Guest." Directed by Suzan Lorraine, the show runs May 10 through June 2. No audition appointment or prepared monologue necessary. Roles include six men (ages 20s through 50s) and three women (20s through 60s). For more information, call 925-429-1184 or email email@example.com.
Tielle Baker's Music Box Theatre will hold auditions for "All Shook Up" on March 30, April 2 and April 7, with callbacks on April 14. The show is part of a high-intensity six-week summer program for ages 11 to 20 that culminates in performances at The Village Theatre in Danville in mid-August. For more information, go to www.musicboxtheatreco.com.
Diablo Theatre Company's Stars 2000 will hold auditions for actors ages 13 to 20 on March 23-24 with callbacks on March 27-28 for "Legally Blonde." The show performs July 26-Aug. 4 at Diablo Valley College's Performing Arts Center in Pleasant Hill. For an audition appointment, call Diane Kamrin at 925-944-0900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barrett Lindsay-Steiner's popular summer camps are already accepting registrations. People who sign up before May 1 for one of three sessions receive a discount. Each session ends with one of Lindsay-Steiner's very clever, original musicals. Go to www.standingovations.org for more information.
Reach Sally Hogarty at email@example.com