If you find yourself in England’s Stratford-Upon-Avon visiting the house of the wife of William Shakespeare, the first thing you will noticed is the thatched roof. This distinct feature attached to the humble home of Anne Hathaway is located among the most picturesque English countryside, with beautiful flowers at every turn, grounds that are lush with nature and history.
Venture out behind the house just a bit further and you will run into another historic site, Shottery Brook. While the dulcet tones of running water are idyllic, what is even more fascinating is the belief that this brook was the inspiration for the succulent speech that “Hamlet” character Queen Gertrude speaks as she describes Ophelia’s suicide by drowning. The Queen’s words bring forth a modicum of peace in describing the tragic young woman and her unfortunate end.
Much like the Bard’s humble beginnings in the small countryside town, Plethos Productions in Castro Valley is working towards bigger dreams and a bigger presence in the East Bay. Their production of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” which continues to run through June 23rd at TwiningVine Estate Winery, is a production where describing it as a “labor of love” is quite the understatement.
Their production of the show is delightful, a play where three performers zip through all 37 Shakespeare plays and some sonnets in 90 minutes, with most of the attention being paid to Romeo, Juliet and Hamlet. The three actors include Amanda Bailey, Brian Moore and Nick Mandracchia, who did plenty of work together in order to cohere nicely, directed by Riley Hyde. It’s a silly, buffoonish piece that does lots of fun things despite the fact that some bits in the text haven’t aged very well. On the comic archery meter, it certainly hits plenty of its targets.
What really stands out about the production is that it’s a part of a much bigger plan. What strikes you as you first drive onto the winery’s grounds is that this is a facility which conjures those images of Stratford with a running creek, the winery’s own little version of Shottery, that rests behind the makeshift stage and tiring house.
Union City native Karin Richey is the founder of Plethos (pronounced play those, a Greek word which means a multitude of people). While there are others that are part of her band, she definitely plays lead guitar.
By Richey’s own admission, the company is not one that can throw money at a problem. Every person who works for the company is a volunteer. A staff does not exist. No performers nor members of the creative or production teams get paid. Any gaps that exist in the production are filled by Richey and her fellow loyal theatricians.
But despite that, the cast takes full advantage of a chance to perform a delightful piece that fits perfectly in such a setting while a first-time director gains valuable experience.
“We don’t have a team of people making sure that every aspect of the show is perfect, and we don’t have an expert at sound, an expert at lights – we don’t have that and are just not there,” said Richey, 33. “We want to be in a place where we’re not only going to be ok and survive, but really thrive and be willing to do whatever it takes to get the show going. We’re a small company and we all get along so well so we’re making it work.”
The show itself is quite the fun romp, especially for those who come into the show with a good knowledge of Shakespeare’s work, which the opening night audience seemed to have in spades. Well, that and a whole lot of wine which flowed freely, along with some great touches such as food stands that sold chicken wings and cupcakes. Plastic chairs and a smattering of tables made up the seating area, chairs that the house staff hustled to get more of in order to accommodate the overflow crowd. Others chose to get comfy on the grass and even brought their own lawn chairs and blankets to push back the chilly East Bay evening breeze.
Mandracchia and Bailey play more of the straight to the zaniness of Moore. Their quick movements keep the show moving forward at rapid fire progression. Each performer has their standout touches, while some moments can certainly sharpen. Those moments mostly have to do with the comic timing of the piece, a concept that the play’s successes are built on. And a personal favorite moment from the script, when Moore performs one of Hamlet’s great soliloquies, “What a piece of work is a man!,” the speech should discover a bit more honesty and variation.
For now, this play is the small moment in a long game of sustainability. Obtaining 501c3 status and getting active in funding and development are high on Richey’s priority list. They’ve tackled comedy and improv shows, and their first big production in the summer of 2018 was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights.”
Ticket prices will always remain low, so there is no plan to depend on that revenue. Ideally, grants and donations will pace their budgets.
These are the things that consume Richey when she works to create a theatre of ideals in the sublimely expensive Bay Area, a theatre experience that everyone can access.
“We are not going to charge $35 for tickets, so everything is smaller – our budgets are smaller, the size of our plays is smaller, and pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain doing everything.
“For now, I want to find people to work for us who are as passionate as I am.”
Those people who share the vision of Plethos will most certainly be found. But snagging a venue that doubles as Stratford’s sibling has proven to be quite the valuable find in itself.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Plethos Productions presents “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)”
Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield
Directed by Riley Hyde
June 21st – 23rd
TwiningVine Estate Winery
Running time: Two hours with an intermission
16851 Cull Canyon Rd., Castro Valley, CA
Tickets range from $15 – $20
For tickets, visit www.plethos.org