Murphys Creek Theatre: Summer Shakespeare in the Mother Lode

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(Murphys, CA)
Thursday, June 30, 2005

Murphys is a gold rush town. In 1852, there were three thousand residents, mostly miners, hoping to get rich. Nowadays, about two thousand people live in Murphys, many employed at bed and breakfast inns and small wineries. But the miners’ optimism that almost anything is possible is alive and well. Eleven years ago, a group of Murphys locals decided that they’d like to stage classic plays in the summer. Thus was born the Murphys Creek Theatre. Actress Sheila Doyle was an early member.

“You know, this is a case of one of those situations where had we known how difficult this was to do, we never would have done it. But we were incredibly naïve and said, ‘Let’s just put this together.”
Most of the actors live in Murphys, and have day jobs, according to artistic director Graham Scott Green.

“There’s actually a lot of local talent up here. I guess this area sort of draws actors to it, I don’t know.”

The theater company partnered with the Stevenot Winery, which let them build a terraced amphitheater in an old quarry on the property, where they produce the summer Shakespeare series. This year’s centerpiece is “Hamlet.” Staging a tragedy is a gamble at the box office, as Green admits.

“Usually, the comedies sell, obviously, much much better than the tragedies. But “Hamlet” is the quintessential play. It’s the big one. So I’m hoping that we’ll get good response.”He’s also hoping for good weather. Murphys Creek Theatre ran out of luck on June 16th, the night of their dress rehearsal for “Hamlet.” It was only the second rainout in the company’s history. When I interviewed actress Sheila Doyle the next day, she was still recovering.

“And it got really cold yesterday afternoon, and I was thinking, ‘Well, that’s lousy.’ I was still in complete denial. And then it started raining, and it really started raining.”

But “Hamlet” opened, under cloudy skies, on June 17th. One of the first arrivals was board president Beth Hirsch, who also handles the refreshments. She started brewing coffee around 6:30 p.m.

“Well, for a cool night like tonight, I’m going to make about 42 cups of coffee, for an audience of about 40. And on a really hot night, for an audience of about 150, I make 25 cups.”

The stage was busy before the show, as the crew cleaned up the mess left by the rain.  The artistic director worked on the lights, some of which had shorted out. Actors rehearsed their fight scene, featured in the play’s climax.  And then, at 8 o’clock, the show began. Ari Levin played Hamlet, and Sheila Doyle played Hamlet’s mother Gertrude.

(Dialog from show)

Levin is a professional actor from Las Vegas, who’s played Hamlet before in this country and in England. It’s a huge part, and Levin was recruited because the Murphys Creek production has only nine performances, so they wanted an actor who could move right into the role.  For Green, there are other advantages to having someone like Levin work with his stable of local actors.

“Especially in an area as isolated as this, an artistic organization has to have a constant influx of ideas, or it gets stagnant. And so I try to bring people in to keep the mix going.”

The Murphys Creek production of “Hamlet” alternates with a second show, Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors,” at the Stevenot Winery in Murphys, through July 30.