It’s the play that almost wasn’t this year — this summer’s production of free Shakespeare in Veterans Memorial Park in Napa.
This year, Shakespeare Napa Valley presents the romantic comedy “Twelfth Night,” on weekends July 20-29.
For the past two summers, the free Shakespeare productions in downtown Napa have drawn crowds of hundreds a night to picnic by the river while watching lively productions of “The Taming of the Shrew,” “Much Ado About Nothing” and “The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged.”
Earlier this spring, however, Napa Valley College announced that additional, unexpected state budget cuts would eliminate all but a few necessary summer courses for 2012. Due to be cut was the summer theater class, which provided part of the funds for the summer shows. Lissa Gibbs, executive director of the Napa Valley Foundation, joined Shakespeare Napa Valley founder Jennifer King to launch a two-week fundraising campaign that raised $20,000 in 10 days and ensured the show would go on.
“I was thrilled by the outpouring of support,” King said. “It is amazing that after only two years downtown, Napa rallied to make sure Shakespeare stays alive in Veterans Park.”
King directs this summer’s production, which brings back many of the actors from previous seasons in the gender-bending story of shipwrecked twins who find their true loves when they are washed ashore on an unknown island. King has moved the setting to the Wild West, expanding on an idea she tried out, with great success, in a production at Napa Valley College several years ago before the move to Veterans Park.
“We have assembled a terrific cast and team of designers,” she said. “Our production team went above and beyond this year to craft designs that look spectacular with a very smal budget. Tim Dugan who is the chairman of theater arts at Cal Poly did the set design. Because of his position he understood the state budget cuts and how to design accordingly.
“Our costume designer Teresa Shay is his daughter and designs for Burning Man. Because of them, our community and the production team and gifted actors, including students, we have a wonderful show. I am so grateful to have people in my life who step up like this to make sure the show goes on.”
Taylor Bartolucci plays the role of Viola, who, finding herself alone in a new world, disguises herself as a boy and finds employment with the local Duke Orsino, who is languishing from unrequited love for another woman. Christhian Ayvar, a Napa High graduate well known on Napa stages, stars as Orsino.
“Twelfth Night” includes some of Shakespeare’s most memorable comic figures, including the loopy Sir Andrew Aguecheek and his co-hort in carousing, Sir Toby Belch. Chad Yarish and Dodds Delzell, who starred in both of last summer’s productions, return to the Shakespeare Napa Valley stage to play these roles, with what will undoubtedly be relish.
Tim Kniffin, who dazzled audiences last year with his performance as the glib-tongued Benedick in “Much Ado About Nothing,” plays the role of the cross-gartered, social climber Malvolio. Another North Bay favorite, Tim Setzer plays Feste, the fool.
Music director, Mark Osten, has composed an original score for the production.
“Twelfth Night” plays July 20-22 and 26- 29. All performances are at 7 p.m. There are no reservations accepted for the performances and seating is first-come, first-served. Audience members are encouraged to bring a chair or blanket to sit on.