Cal Shakes ends season with a vibrant Dream

Sep 07

Cal Shakes ends season with a vibrant <i>Dream</i>

A Midsummer Night's Dream is a landmark play for California Shakespeare Theater. When the company really became the company, then known as Berkeley Shakespeare Company, the first show produced at John Hinkel Park was Midsummer. Since then, the play has been performed seven more times, and now Cal Shakes concludes its 40th anniversary season with a version of the play that feels unlike any other production of it I've seen.

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Double good, double fun in Cal Shakes’ Comedy

Jun 29

Double good, double fun in Cal Shakes’ <i>Comedy</i>

A visiting stranger makes a keen observation: "Your town is troubled with unruly boys." The trouble is, he ends up being one of the unruly boys, and that's the fun of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, a masterfully chaotic comedy now at California Shakespeare Theater's Bruns Amphitheater.

As farces go, this Comedy requires us to believe that two sets of not-so-bright twins with the same names – the upper-class set is called Antipholus, the slave set is called Dromio – cause confusion, consternation and furious frustration when roaming the streets of Ephesus of the same day. Once over that hump (and Shakespeare makes it pretty easy), the farce clicks along like a finely tuned laugh machine until brothers are reunited, a father's search is fulfilled and a courtesan gets her diamond ring back.

Director Aaron Posner strikes the right tone from the start...

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Cal Shakes’ lukewarm take on Winter’s Tale

Oct 03

Cal Shakes’ lukewarm take on <i>Winter’s Tale</i>

On a refreshingly brisk autumn night, California Shakespeare Theater's A Winter's Tale aimed to tell a sad story with a happy ending. "A sad story is best for winter," or so we're told by a young boy not long for this earth.

Even by Shakespearean standards, this is a strange play, with its jarring shifts in tone, unexplained fits of jealousy, interference by the gods and living statuary. In other words, it's a director's dream – here's a wacky play that needs lots of interpretation and massaging to make it work for a modern audience.

Cal Shakes previously closed the season with A Winter's Tale in 2002 with a massive production in which the audience moved around to accommodate the shift in action from Sicilia to Bohemia. Director Lisa Peterson hauled out screaming teenagers, a school bus and an all-out rave before audience members headed back into the theater proper for the moving, if fantastical, finale.

This time around, we get a wildly different Tale directed by Patricia McGregor, who returns after the triumph of last season's Spunk.

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Orinda hills, young lovers captivate in Cal Shakes’ Romeo and Juliet

Jul 07

Orinda hills, young lovers captivate in Cal Shakes’ <i>Romeo and Juliet</i>

What's immediately striking about California Shakespeare Theater's Romeo and Juliet, the second show of the season, is the apparent absence of a set. When the company last dipped into this romantic Shakespearean tragedy (in 2009 – read the review here), director Jonathan Moscone erected an enormous, cement-looking wall scrawled with graffiti to evoke the mean streets of Verona. For this production, director Shana Cooper and designer Daniel Ostling have opted for minimalism to glorious effect.

Ostling has built no walls, only platforms of rough wood, leaving the full beauty of the gold and green Orinda hills to dominate the sightline until the sun sets and Lap Chi Chu's lights help give the open space on stage some architectural form (the columns of light stretching into the sky to convey a tomb are especially, eerily effective). With so much space to fill, you'd think this cast – also minimalist with only seven actors playing all the roles – might have trouble filling it, but that turns out not to be the case. Somehow the epic feel of the landscape only trains more attention on the flawed, flailing, ferociously romantic people at the heart of this oft-told tale.

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Berkeley Rep’s Pericles: Prince of Tyre-less theatrics

Apr 18

Berkeley Rep’s <i>Pericles</i>: Prince of Tyre-less theatrics

There's a rough beauty to director Mark Wing-Davey's Pericles, Prince of Tyre now on Berkeley Repertory Theatre's Thrust Stage. The industrial look of the bi-level set by Douglas Stein and Peter Ksander indicates that this will be a utilitarian telling of this dubious Shakespeare tale – dubious only because we don't really know how much (if any) of the play the Bard actually wrote.

From the giant crane that hoists everything from crystal chandeliers to pirates' nets to the goddess Diana, to the sliding metal doors that bang and clang during scene transitions, this is a production that revs and lurches like an engine that could use a little more tuning

But that's not to say that this re-imagining of Pericles by Wing-Davey and Jim Calder isn't entertaining or even, at times, quite captivating.

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Wrestling affections in Impact’s As You Like It

Mar 03

Wrestling affections in Impact’s <i>As You Like It</i>

p>Shakespeare didn't drop any F-bombs in his comedy As You Like It, but that doesn't stop Impact Theatre. There are lots of non-Shakespeare asides in this highly edited, streamlined version from director Melissa Hillman, but purists shouldn't despair. Such contemporary additions are usually thrown in during scene transitions or to punctuate a joke that has already landed. And they're a hell of a lot of fun, as is the entire 2 1/2- hour show.

Hillman and Impact often draw from the Shakespeare well, but rather serving the plays up straight, they're turned into potent cocktails, with some darker and bloodier than others. With As You Like It, Hillman and her game cast are reveling in relationships. Some of the more Shakespearean touches in the show – like the characters of Jaques the grump and Touchstone the clown don't fare as well because they're too much on the periphery and don't fit in to the gender-bending love stories jumping through hoops in the center ring.

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