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2018 August 19

Santa Cruz Shakespeare 2018

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I have now seen all of the Santa Cruz Shakespeare productions for 2018, except the intern’s show Men I’m Not Married To, which starts on Wed 22 August.  There are four performances left of Love’s Labours Lost, Romeo and Juliet, and Venus in Fur, plus the three performances of the intern’s show.

Santa Cruz Shakespeare Venus in Fur 2018
Photo by Shmuel Thaler (from https://www.santacruzshakespeare.org/about/media-room/ )

All the performances are worth seeing, but Venus in Fur is definitely the highlight of the season—it is the play that the set was designed around (the set doesn’t really work for the Shakespearean plays), it has the best lighting and sound effects, and it showcases the talents of two very strong actors.  Brian Ibsen’s interpretation of Thomas in Venus in Fur is outstanding,  which I had not expected from his rather lackluster performance as Berowne in Love’s Labours Lost.  Even more impressive is María Gabriella Rosado González’s performance as Vanda, switching seamlessly between three different characters: actress, Victorian woman, and goddess.  The only thing that marred the production was the miking of the actors—occasionally the amplification failed.  It might have been better not to mike them at all (I might not have felt that way if I had been seated further back—audibility of some actors can be a problem in outdoor theater).

I reviewed Love’s Labours Lost earlier, when I saw the first preview—I’ll see it again at the end of the run, when it may have improved a bit.

The Romeo and Juliet is a fairly straightforward, traditional interpretation of the play, despite changing the genders of Benvolio and Tybalt to meet SCS’s goal of having gender balance in their cast.  SCS will be ending the season this year with a number of matinees of Romeo and Juliet for local high-school students—probably the best choice for educational purposes.

In addition to the full productions, SCS also did two free staged readings this year The Doll’s House and The Taming.  The reading of The Doll’s House was very polished for a staged reading and was well worth attending.  I had mixed feelings about The Taming: the play was funny, but some of the lines were rushed and the actresses sometimes difficult to hear.  It was worth going, but was clearly not as rehearsed as The Doll’s House. The Taming is also a play with a fairly short half-life, being full of topical references and slang—if they plan to do a full production of it, they’ll have to do it in the next couple of years.

 

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2018 July 18

Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost

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Last week my wife, my mother-in-law, and I went to see the first preview of Love’s Labour’s Lost performed by Santa Cruz Shakespeare in Delaveaga Park.  The play has a simple, rather obvious plot, but there is a lot of fun wordplay (much of which is lost on modern audiences, even with a good dramaturg and director).  I suspect that SCS chose the play partly for the ease of understanding, but also because the near gender balance of the play makes their policy of gender-balanced casting easier.

Only four parts are cast cross-gender: Moth, Boyet, Holofernes, and the messenger Marcadé).  Moth is supposed to be young enough that gender is really irrelevant, Holofernes works perfectly well as a schoolmarm rather than a schoolmaster, and the messenger Marcadé is just a messenger, whose gender doesn’t matter.  That leaves Boyet, who is normally a lord attending the French princess and is often played as an older, gay man.  Converting the part to that of a middle-aged woman works well enough, except for one exit, when Boyet is sent to the King’s court, where no women are allowed.

SCS’s performance is worth seeing, but not stellar.  I found the performances by Tommy Gomez (as Don Adriano de Armado) and Kailey Azure Green (as his page Moth) to be the best—Don Adriano comes across more 3-dimensional than the part is usually played without losing any of the humor, and Kailey captured the essence of Moth well.

Usually Berowne’s part is the best one, but I did not find Brian Ibsen to be a convincing Berowne.  He rushed the speeches a bit and did not seem really to get into the part (he also may be a bit old for the part—he should be the quintessential fratboy, not obviously 10–15 years older than the other lords).  I suspect that he’ll do better as Thomas in Venus in Fur.

The four ladies of France, with Boyet barely visible in back. Photo from https://www.santacruzshakespeare.org/about/media-room/

The costuming was good (1916?), but the set was rather dull. Perhaps it will look better when it is lighted at night (the first preview is a matinée).  I’ll get another chance to see the performance in the evening with the lighting near the end of the run—perhaps I’ll change my mind about the set then.

 

2018 June 13

Romeo and Juliet

This year seems to be the time for Romeo and Juliet.  UCSC Shakes-to-go did it as their touring production to the local schools—I did not get to see that production this year, but my wife did.

UCSB’s Shakespeare in the Park class (THTR 194A) did it as their production, which I saw twice.  My son was in it, playing the role of Tybalt.  I took still photos of the Saturday production and video of the Sunday production.  I’ve not had time to select, crop, color-correct, and reduce resolution on the still photos yet, but my son processed the video and we put it up on Youtube:

There was a camera glitch at the end of the party scene, and I did not record a minute or two of the play while rebooting the camera.

Futuristic Lights provided the gloving lights for the party scene (donated to the cast) and loaned lights used for indicating the life of the actors (a rather futuristic way to handle the fight scenes that may not have been clear to the audience).  Many of the roles are cast cross-gender (a necessity with only 3 female roles and many actresses), including the part of Lady Capulet, played by a male actor.

Later this summer we’ll be seeing Santa Cruz Shakespeare doing Romeo and Juliet with professional actors, which will probably be the best production.

2017 December 10

2018 Santa Cruz Shakespeare season

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Last Thursday, Santa Cruz Shakespeare announced their summer 2018 season to donors at a season-announcement party—they’ll be doing a public announcement later this week.  For readers of my blog, here is the line-up, slightly in advance of the public announcement:

  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Love’s Labours Lost
  • Venus in Fur (by David Ives)

The fringe play has not been selected yet (or, at any rate, not finalized).

The theme is apparently love and sex, with the non-Shakespearean play selected to appeal to modern adult audiences (as well as being a two-hander, to keep down production costs).

Santa Cruz Shakespeare is also starting a new educational program.  The Romeo and Juliet production will stay an extra week at the end of the summer season, giving morning performances for high school groups from Santa Cruz County.  I think they said that they plan to offer the show free to Title 1 schools and for about $10 to other schools. I believe that they are looking for donations (or more grants) to lower the cost of tickets further or provide scholarships for students who can’t afford even the reduced price.  They don’t have this new program on their education page yet, so I can’t give any details.

2017 August 20

Santa Cruz Shakespeare 2017 reviews

In More recent theater events, I listed the 8 plays I’d seen in May and June, and reviewed Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s production of The 39 Steps.  Since then, I’ve seen the rest of the Santa Cruz Shakespeare season and a couple of other performances

Date title produced by
2017 July 18 Antony and Cleopatra Royal Shakespeare Company (broadcast)
2017 July 28 Measure for Measure Santa Cruz Shakespeare
2017 Aug 5 Split the Bill
2017 Aug 8 A Most Dangerous Woman (staged reading) Santa Cruz Shakespeare
2017 Aug 11 Shakespeare Conservatory showcase West Performing Arts
2017 Aug 15 The Night that Never Existed (staged reading) Santa Cruz Shakespeare
2017 Aug 19 Two Gentlemen of Verona Santa Cruz Shakespeare

Let me start with the non-SCS performances.

I won’t bother reviewing the Royal Shakespeare Company performance—it was worth seeing, but did not wow me. A workman-like production with nothing to excite particular interest.

Split the Bill was a combination of sketch comedy and improv with many of the same actors who were in the Dinosaur Prom improv troupe that my son used to act with, plus some younger comedians.  I suspect that he could have been in the Split the Bill shows if he had gone to the earlier ones this summer (this was their fourth of four), but his sleep-all-day schedule this summer has made it difficult for him to do anything involving other people.  The show was similar in quality to the Dinosaur Prom shows—amusing in the moment, but not particularly memorable.

The West Conservatory showcase was a little different from previous years, in part because they had different teachers this year.  The monologues and scene work were quite good, but the choral piece at the beginning was ragged and the clowning towards the end a bit clumsy. There are several upcoming actors in the WEST troupe who are good, so we’ll probably continue to go to the WEST teen shows, even though our son has aged out.  (Perhaps I should say “actresses” instead of “actors”, since only one of the actors in the conservatory was male, but I tend to use “actor” as a genderless designation.)

For transportation to the four Santa Cruz Shakespeare productions at the Audrey Stanley Grove, we did bus+walk to get to Measure for Measure, but walked the whole way (about 3.8 miles) for the other three productions.  For all of them we took Lyft home.  The walk takes us about 1:25, so is about the same speed as walking plus bus.  Lyft continues to be a fairly reliable way to get home (better than the taxicabs we tried last year).

The Measure for Measure production was the weakest one of SCS’s 2017 season.  Although there was some good individual acting, overall the performance was run of the mill.  The lower-cast characters were so ruthlessly cut that they added little to the play, the costuming looked like a low-budget high-school production, and the direction was lackluster.  They were deliberately working with a small cast so that the production could move to CalShakes after finishing in Santa Cruz, but the double and triple casting was not very effective.  In particular, I found that double casting Claudio and Pompey (and clothing both in the same prison outfit distinguished only by Pompey’s hat) did not work well.  I also did not care for dressing Angelo in high boots—it would have been better to dress him as a missionary than as a Nazi. The directorial choice of handling the problematic ending by converting the Duke’s marriage proposal into a job offer (with no changes to the lines) was reasonable for a 21st century audience, but it seems like so much of the director’s effort went into that choice that there was no time to make the rest of the play work well.

The two staged readings were an interesting experiment on SCS’s part.  They were expecting a fairly small turnout, but got around 200 for each of the readings. I don’t have cast lists for the two performance, though I recognized a number of the performers.  Julie James did a good job as George Eliot in A Most Dangerous Woman (by Cathy Tempelsman), and Mike Ryan was good in both shows.  I was expecting a little more blocking and gesturing in the performances, but quickly adjusted to the style of actors stepping up to the music stands with their scripts to indicate when they were on stage.  The story of George Eliot’s life made a good play, and it would be a good one for Jewel Theatre to produce (a better part for Julie James than many of the ones she casts herself in).

The Night that Never Existed is a play by Humberto Robles, translated from Spanish by Rochelle Trotter. It is a two-hander, with Mike Ryan playing Shakespeare and Patty Gallagher playing Queen Elizabeth.  The concept is a simple one: Queen Elizabeth asks Shakespeare to teach her about love.  Many of the lines are borrowed from Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets and are deftly arranged to support the scenes. Unfortunately, there are also a number of expository lines (Queen Elizabeth praising Shakespeare) that are leaden—I don’t know whether the fault here belongs to Robles, Trotter, or both.  It would require a really fine production by virtuoso performers to make this play worth producing, though with a little editing it could work well.

Overall, the staged readings were a good experiment, providing dedicated theater goers some extra entertainment and allowing the company to experiment with some different plays that probably could not command a big enough audience for a full production.  One big problem was the sound.  I was unable to hear one of the actresses in A Most Dangerous Woman (I don’t know her name), and even Patty Gallagher was hard to hear from the third row in The Night that Never Existed. I had no trouble hearing Patty in her roles in the main productions, so I think that the problem was more lack of rehearsal than inherent to the actresses.  The outdoor stage at the Grove does require more projection than most actors are used to, and it is particularly hard for the higher-pitched female voices (and it doesn’t help that I’m going deaf, losing the higher frequencies first). The sound system doesn’t help much, as it introduces echoes before it provides much support.  Perhaps the sound engineers could work on better speaker and mic placement for next year, and perhaps some filtering to produce more treble than bass boost.

Two Gentlemen of Verona is probably the best show this summer, though it is a toss-up with The 39 Steps. The costuming for Two Gents is some of the best I’ve seen from B. Modern (who is a great costume designer), directing was inspired, and the clowns Launce and Speed given full rein (they are too often cut drastically or underplayed).  This production was much better than the 1999 production by Shakespeare Santa Cruz (I still remember being disappointed that they had cut Launce’s “my cane understands me” joke in that production).  The conversion of Launce from a male to a female role worked surprisingly well, even if it did substantially change the sexual jokes in the milkmaid (changed to milkman) scene.  Doing that scene as a cabaret act was really impressive and gave the acting interns a chance to show off some of their skills. All the acting in this play was great (well, one muffed line by Speed, but it did not detract from his otherwise good performance).

Unlike Measure for Measure, the company did not come up with a reasonable resolution for the abrupt ending of Two Gents (the forgiveness for Proteus still seems wholly unnatural), but the rest of the play was so good that one could forgive them for not being able to fix Shakespeare’s clumsiness here.

Bottom line: go to see The 39 Steps and Two Gentlemen of Verona.  If you have time for a third play, Measure for Measure is ok.  If you can only afford the time for one play, choosing between The 39 Steps and Two Gentlemen of Verona is tough—you are unlikely to have an opportunity to see a better production of either play.  Much of the humor of The 39 Steps relies on the differences between film and stage productions (and it helps to have seen the movie—indeed to have seen several Hitchcock movies), while Two Gentlemen of Verona is a comedy that is intended to stand on its own.

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