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Tucson Weekly Bard Games

Mercury Productions Presents A Whole New Dimension To Shakespeare.

By Margaret Regan

GARY DOOLEY SPEAKS the Queen's English in one of those refined British accents that, for better or worse, suggest good breeding, high tea and, above all else, tradition.

He's a Cambridge man, with a Ph.D. in psychology, and though he's now spent about 10 years in the colonies, first in Australia, then in the United States, he still uses such expressions as "really keen" to describe his own enthusiasms. Those enthusiasms right now center on the theatre. Though he's working part time in the UA pharmacy department (his expertise is in deafness and cochlear implants), Dooley says he's been involved in theatre in one way or another for 20 years. Given his pedigree, one is not in the least surprised to hear that Mercury Productions, the brand-new company he co-founded with a group of five other theatre lovers, is kicking off its first season with the Bard.

"My interest is the classics," he says briskly, speaking always in those dulcet tones. "We thought we'd start off with Shakespeare. Every theatre company has to scale Shakespeare sooner or later."

The fledgling company, many of whose members met last summer during a Parks and Recreation production of Twelfth Night, opens Thursday, June 12, at the Tucson Center for the Performing Arts, with The Merry Wives of Windsor. The very next week, on Wednesday, June 18, Mercury opens Measure for Measure. The two works, making up what the company calls the Tucson Shakespeare Festival, will then play alternately though June 28.

The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare's only domestic comedy, is probably also the closest the playwright ever got to a sex farce. It's the comical story of Falstaff in love, or at least in lust, with a couple of sturdy English matrons who don't hesitate to play tricks on him for his knavery. Measure for Measure, set in ducal Vienna, is a much darker meditation on power, lust and moral probity. A young nun is given an evil choice: submit to a rape by the duke, or see her brother put to death.

It's ambitious for a new company to take on these two plays at once, lining up casts of Tucson veterans and newcomers, but it's not extraordinary. The surprise comes when Dooley explains his wildly inventive take on these two classics.

Merry Wives, instead of being set in the Queen's own town of Windsor, will take place in suburban America in the late 1950s. What's more, Dooley boasts, "It's the only Elvis-karaoke production ever. There are lots of Elvis songs." The audience will have the opportunity to sing along on such tunes as "Hound Dog," "Love Me Tender" and "Suspicion." A cast of eight will do "frenetic doubling" to pull off the some 20 characters in the play. And, oh yes, a full-scale Martian invasion has been added to the sacred text.

Measure for Measure, Dooley continues, will get an "expressive, postmodernist, cyberpunk" interpretation by a cast of 16 or 17 players.

"It will be hyper-contemporary or almost futuristic."

Whatever would his Cambridge dons have said?

"Our mission is to produce relevant productions of classical plays," an unabashed Dooley explains. And relevant, to Mercury, means "innovative and exciting." After all, the company takes its name from Orson Welles' old Mercury Theater, and it was Welles who declared that in theatre, "The essential is to excite the spectators. If that means playing Hamlet on a flying trapeze or in an aquarium, you do it."

The aquarium, Dooley says dryly, was not possible. "The Tucson Center for the Performing Arts wouldn't let us do the aquarium thing, but we did have some other ideas. We're aiming to entertain, confront and excite our audiences--exactly what I think Shakespeare was aiming at."

Even if the Queen would disagree.

Mercury Productions opens The Merry Wives of Windsor at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 12, at the Tucson Center for the Performing Arts, 408 S. Sixth Ave. Shows continue this weekend at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Measure for Measure opens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 18. After that, the two productions will alternate at various times through Saturday, June 28. Tickets are $10, $8 for students and seniors. If you buy a ticket at the same time for both productions, the costs are $17 or $13. For information and reservations, call 620-2110.

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