Thanks to a new nonprofit, the Napa Valley can now add world-class theater to its reputation for pre-eminent wine, food and culture.

The debut event for NapaShakes — a new organization bringing the works of Shakespeare to Napa Valley — was an exclusive Bay Area performance of London’s Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre’s production of “King Lear,” free at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville for about 900 Napa Valley students and their teachers. The Dec. 4 production was a special one-hour version of one of the Bard of Avon’s greatest tragedies, followed by two full performances on Saturday, Dec. 6.

Directed by Bill Buckhurst, the cast included Joseph Marcell as the irascible and mentally fragile King. An accomplished Shakespearean actor in the U.K., Marcell is known to American television audiences as Geoffrey the Butler on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Daniel Pirrie and Gwendolen Chatfield, both “Downton Abbey” alums, rounded out a cast of eight who each played multiple roles.

To begin with, the audience received a Globe Theatre welcome from the cast. In a departure from the American theater experience, actors strolled the aisles before the start of the show, greeting and chatting with audience members, while one of the actresses played the accordion onstage and led the audience in a few rounds of “What Shall We do With a Drunken Sailor?”

Once onstage, the actors introduced themselves and announced which characters they would play. During the performance, house lights were left on, emulating the open-air Globe Theatre in London. The tragedy was also dotted with songs and the performance concluded with a lively tune. But easily the most striking element of the performance was the actors’ command of the English language. Although the audience might not have hung on every word, they were surely impressed with the quality of elocution.

After the performance the actors mingled with the crowd in the lobby, and “Game of Thrones” actor John Stahl, with his deep and resonating voice, enthralled the kids with stories of acting out Shakespeare.

NapaShakes scored a coup in bringing this performance to Napa Valley. The Globe’s production was originally scheduled to end its tour in St. Petersburg, Russia. However, it ended a 20-month tour with performances in Yountville, a decision that might have been based on weather, according to St. Helena’s Laura Rafaty, a former Broadway producer. Rafaty is the founder, producer and artistic director of NapaShakes.

NapaShake’s next presentation will be a benefit showing of “Twelfth Night” starring Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry, at 2 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Cameo Cinema. For more go to NapaShakes.org.

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The Weekly Calistogan Editor

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