Shakespeare at Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park
Enjoy (and maybe even participate in) Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet at a Sonoma County treasure and National Historic Landmark: The Petaluma Adobe. Performances end Sept. 25.
First, the venue. Beginning in the 1830s and well into the 1840s, Rancho Petaluma was the largest privately-owned adobe building in what would soon be known as California. It was also ranch headquarters for the region’s most important early historic figure, General Mariano Vallejo.
Today, it’s known as Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park, and a visit here is like being transported back to the great rancho era. Most of the adobe bricks are original, farm animals roam the property, authentic period furniture and equipment fill the rooms, and it’s not unusual to spot coyotes or foxes in the surrounding grasslands and oak-studded hills.
Second, the players. The innovative theatrical company, We Players, uses historic or other significant sites as venues. In previous years, their productions in the San Francisco Bay Area have included Hamlet on Alcatraz, the Odyssey on Angel Island, Macbeth at Fort Point, and Ondine at Sutro Baths.
Now through Sept. 25, We Players are presenting Romeo & Juliet at Petaluma Adobe, using the massive adobe building and the beautiful surrounding ranchland to maximum advantage.
I attended opening night on Aug. 12, and was just blown away by the combination of an extraordinary performance and the superb venue. The famous balcony scene between Romeo and Juliet took place with Juliet on the adobe’s second-floor balcony and Romeo standing on the ground below. It wasn’t a palatial building in Verona, but it seemed so much more authentic than any kind of staging a theater could summon up.
Many of the original artifacts were used; Mercutio, for example, jumped on and off an ancient hay cart while fencing. The audience moves from place to place with the actors (some people sat on the ground or on provided small folding stools and others, like me, preferred to stand), and at times we became part of the play itself.
For the masked ball we were provided with black lace masks, ate hors d'ouevres passed on trays by actors, and danced with abandon. At times actors stood amongst us and shouted at characters in the play — when the prince banished Romeo from Verona, for instance, three or four actors standing with us shouted "Free him! Let him go!" So we did, too.
The play started at 6 p.m. and was over at 9 — there was no break. The world grew slowly dark around us. The final scenes — when we walked as mourners behind Juliet's coffin, for example — were deep dusk. Lanterns were lit for her bier.
My friends and I arrived early and enjoyed a picnic on the adobe grounds — there are half a dozen tables beneath trees near the parking lot. Be sure to bring warm layers and even gloves. About 8 p.m. the Pacific Ocean sea breeze began flowing through the Petaluma Gap and the warmish evening turned really cold.
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