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2022 August 31

Santa Cruz Shakespeare 2022 season

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I went to all the performances of Santa Cruz Shakespeare this summer and most of their other events also: meet the directors, meet the cast, meet the interns, educational program for Tempest, educational program for Twelfth Night, the announcement of the 2023 season, and both staged readings, but not the memorial for Audrey Stanley.

The staged readings were ok, but nothing special this year.  The two-hander Nasty, Brutish, and Short by Ian McRae was rather predictable and had somewhat clunky dialog.  The motivations for the Black character were unclear—why did he keep letting the white character continue?  The play might be better with some tightening and an additional character (family member for the Black character? breaking the long dialog into separate scenes rather than having it all one long night?).

The 5-woman Simply The Thing She Is by Kate Hawley was a little more polished, but was probably more fun for the actors than for the audience—again, it was very predictable and the jokes fell a bit flat. As works in progress, they were reasonable plays to do staged readings of, but neither is one that I’d want to see the company move into full production (unlike The Formula, which they premiered this year after many people liked the staged reading they did pre-pandemic).

The interns’ play Just Deserts by Carol Lashof (and, yes, the playwright did use that apparent mis-spelling in the title) called for 1 man and 3 women (or non-binary), but there were 4 acting interns: 2 men and 2 women, so one of the men played a female role (somewhat unusual for Santa Cruz Shakespeare, as they do equal-gender casting, but that usually results in women playing roles intended for men, not vice versa). The interns had three weeks less rehearsal time than planned, as the play they started with was not working, and they spent their third week of rehearsal time choosing a new play.  The one they chose is based on Greek literature: in it Orestes is asking permission of the Furies to kill his mother (who killed his father because he had killed Orestes’ sister Iphigenia).  The interns were all good actors, though the lines for Orestes were not great, and the actor was not able to make them very convincing.  The Furies (particularly Tisiphone) had some great lines, though. The first act was great, but the second act lacked the emotional gut punches of the first act—it seemed a bit anticlimactic.  I think the problem here was in the writing, rather than acting or directing.  Overall, I think that this was one of the better intern productions.

The world premiere of The Formula by Kathryn Chetkovich was great, as I expected from having seen the staged reading of it. I actually liked the casting of the staged reading better, but a repertory company has to use the actors it has for the season, and most seemed to have been selected for their roles in other plays. The story is very loosely based on Midsummer Night’s Dream, in that there is love potion that causes people to fall in love with the first person they see, and (of course) the wrong people keep getting seen first. It is almost a door-slamming farce, which made it a little difficult to stage this year, as the minimal set had no doors. I was a little bothered by having all the actors visibly on stage for most of the play—it might have been good to put up some screens at least, so that characters could enter from the wings.

The Twelfth Night production was good—perhaps the best of the season, though not the best Twelfth Night I’ve ever seen (that goes to a Berkeley Rep production over 40 years ago that featured singing by Oak, Ash, and Thorn). Setting the play in the jazz era and using jazz music worked ok, as did having all the nobles be Black actors. Malvolio as a woman worked ok, though I think that the role still works better as a male one. They cut a bit too much (including some of the more famous jokes), but the actors clearly understood the jokes in the script and made them fairly clear to the audience. Both the acting and the directing were good.

The Tempest production was a bit disappointing. I did not have any inherent problem with Prospero being Miranda’s mother, rather than her father, but they mangled a lot of the lines to make them more PC.  I don’t accept Ariel as a student of Prospero—Ariel was clearly an indentured servant. Ariel seems to have been cast for her voice (a reasonable criterion), but her body language was more that of an earth elemental than an air elemental. Casting Caliban with an older actor seemed a bit strange also—Caliban is supposed to be about the same age as Miranda. Removing the masque from The Tempest is probably sensible (few modern audiences would get anything from it, and it is a bit tedious), but replacing it with catering staff delivering Shakespeare’s fortune cookies (inappropriate quotes yanked from other plays) was worse than leaving the masque in. Most of the acting was good, as were the lighting and special effects, but the cutting and rewording of the play marred an otherwise good effort.

Because of difficulty getting stage carpenters at the beginning of the season, the set was really minimal this year, consisting of 4 circular areas (raised 0, 1, 2, and 3 steps). For three of the plays, this minimal set worked well, but The Formula really needed a more conventional set with doors. The relatively new sound system (all actors were miked) worked well—I did not need my hearing aids for any of the shows, but the voices seemed to be associated with the actors, not coming from random other locations.

We saw the 4 plays in four successive nights, walking to the Grove (about 3.7 miles) each evening up the Audrey Stanley Grove Trail and coming home via Uber. We clustered the plays so that our son could make one trip home from his house in Richmond and see them all.

Next year’s season will consist of King Lear, The Taming of the Shrew, and Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will. The only Gunderson play I’ve seen (I think) is Silent Sky at the Jewel Theatre—I was not particularly impressed by the writing, which seemed heavy-handed and “sincere” (which is not a compliment). Some of her comedies look promising, but the historical and science dramas all sound overly sincere.  I suspect that next year’s season will not be one of their best, as The Taming of the Shrew is very difficult to perform for a modern audience (the humor is inherently misogynistic), and the Gunderson play looks like it will be more fun for the actors than for the audience (the two leads will be the artistic directors Mike Ryan and Charles Pasternak, both good actors). The Lear should be good, if they play it fairly traditionally.

1 Comment »

  1. […] play was a pretty good production of The Tempest—certainly better than the Santa Cruz Shakespeare one we’d seen five weeks earlier, though not as adventurous. The script cut very little of the dialog (leaving in some of the racism […]

    Pingback by Oregon Shakespeare Festival 2022 | Gas station without pumps — 2022 October 1 @ 21:07 | Reply

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