Nobody ever said finding a mate was easy. In some places, the absence of suitable suitors or a dating pool up to snuff is more prevalent than elsewhere. Heck, I've even heard some whispers that Humboldt County isn't ideal.
In Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore, ladies and lads gone lacking for love serves as a jumping-off point for the story. Ruddigore, from 1887, was a play from the librettist-and-composer duo that was part of their famed so-called Savoy operas. It got less traction with audiences and critics at the time (it came right on the heels of The Mikado and hey, you try following that one). It has endured through the years, however, and the Humboldt Light Opera Company has chosen this story of mortals and ghosts and much singing, silliness and seriousness for its annual production this summer.
It's hard to summarize Ruddigore's plot without making it sound overly complex but it really isn't. HLOC's production places the story in 1920s Martha's Vineyard, which makes for some great straw boaters and period dresses for the large cast of principals, smaller players and singers, all courtesy of Liz Souza and Carol Ryder. All is not well, for there have not been any marriages for six months' time, vexing the women of the hamlet. Many of the male suitors are too cowed to ask lovely Rose (Fiona Gadd-Ryder) for her hand. Her aunt Dame Hannah (Elizabeth Erenberger) explains to all that the curse on the first Baronet of Ruddigore is the root of all the woe.
As Rose, Gadd-Ryder is wonderful, possessing a simply stunning voice for what the soprano role requires. Adhering a little too closely to a book of etiquette she was given as a young girl, she sings of how hard it is to find a proper suitor ("But here it says, in plainest print / It's most unladylike to hint / You may not hint / You must not hint / It says you mustn't hint, in print!"). Naturally suitors beckon, those being Robin (a great James Gadd), a local catch sweet on Rose, and his foster brother, Richard (Bryan Tari), a boasty sailor back from 10 years at sea. There is much that's good here and well handled by all the leads, who make fine use of G&S's brilliant and furiously fast comic wordplay. But, on the other hand, all hands on deck can't change the flaws that have earned Ruddigore a reputation as one of the duo's middling works.
Despite some universal elements, the material doesn't always lend itself well to modern audiences. And while the spot-on opulence of HLOC's production — including Carol Ryder's fine direction of a massive cast of singers and an accompanying orchestra — offsets that problem, Ruddigore has some weak songs. Also, by the tail end of the first act, when some other elements and characters come into the play, the story doesn't move as fluidly. The pace of the story becomes sluggish and stagnant at times, despite Gadd doing smashingly carrying scenes away from the rest of the main cast.
Ruddigore has much to offer in the leads' performances, and some of the supporting cast, most notably Cindy Cress as Mad Margaret, steal scenes deftly, as well. At least when it comes to courtship, Gilbert and Sullivan have left us with this ringing truth, sung by Robin: "Though clever as clever can be / You must stir it and stump it / And blow your own trumpet / Or, trust me, you haven't a chance / If you wish in the world to advance / Your merits you're bound to enhance."
HLOC's Ruddigore plays at the Van Duzer Theatre at Humboldt State University on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. through Aug. 19, with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. on Aug. 20. For more information, call 630-5013 or visit www.hloc.org.
The well-executed Shakespeare comedy Love's Labour's Lost finishes its Plays in the Park run at Redwood Park this weekend with 7 p.m. shows on Aug. 18 and 19. Call 822-7091 or visit www.ncrt.net. And bring your own blanket.
Plays in the Park also presents Pam Service's family-friendly Merlin on Sundays at Redwood Park through Aug 20. Call 822-7091.
Snow White and her princess pals are over it in the grown-up fairytale sendup Disenchanted, playing from Sept. 7 through Sept. 30 at Redwood Curtain Theatre. Visit www.redwoodcurtain.com or call 443-7688.