Monday, April 6, 2015


Something wicked this way comes to Santa Cruz Shakespeare this summer. And if you know your Bardic quotes, that means that Macbeth will be one of SCS's featured productions. Since rising, phoenix-like, from the ashes of the entity formerly known as Shakespeare Santa Cruz for its first forward-funded season in 2014, SCS continues to soar with an ambitious four-play program for 2015. (Which is already one more play than last season.)

Full of blood, murder, and intrigue, not to mention witches and ghosts, Macbeth is always a crowd-pleaser—especially staged at night in the spooky Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen. The dark maneuverings of "The Scottish Play"will be balanced out by one of Shakespeare's wittiest, sprightliest romantic comedies, Much Ado About Nothing.

Also on tap is The Liar, David Ives' modern adaptation of a 17th Century farce by Pierre Corneille, in which a young man torn between two lovers embroils himself in ever more Pinnochio-length deceptions. And continuing in the spirit of antic male-female relationships, this year's Fringe Show will be The Rover, a Restoration comedy by Aphra Behn, one of the first English women writers to earn her living by her pen, famed in her day, as now, for her frank observations of sexual politics.
Gender-bent Hamlet, 1899

Gender equality is also much on the mind of Artistic Director Mike Ryan, who, according to a press release, "aims to fill at least half of all roles with women" this season. In the famously comic and romantic battle of the sexes at the heart of Much Ado, one assumes that Beatrice and Benedick will be played by gender-appropriate actors.

 But in the interest of inclusiveness, Ryan has announced that the role of Leonato, the patriarch and father who opens his home to the returning soldiers, will be re-cast as a woman, matriarch Leonata. Which ought to deepen the comedy (or at least the "ado") even further,  with a household of women juxtaposed against the military men.

This isn't some random attention-getting device, either. There's a long tradition of slippery gender identity in the plays of Shakespeare, dating back to his own era, when women were forbidden to act onstage and female roles had to be played by boys and young men. It wasn't until the Restoration era of Charles II that female actresses were grudgingly allowed to play female parts on the boards.

(For a wonderful overview of the complications arising from this transitional period, I highly recommend Stage Beauty, a sly and marvelous film about love, passion, gender identity and sexual confusion on the Restoration stage. Netflix it today!)

At the turn of the last century, the legendary stage actress Sarah Bernhardt was acclaimed for her interpretation of Hamlet. More recently, Julie Taymor's The Tempest featured Helen Mirren as a female Prospero ("Prospera")—giving extra texture to the idea of a noble skilled in herbs and magic banished from her homeland for "witchcraft."

In addition to the usual subsidiary events, like Noon at the Nick lunchtime appearances by SCS actors and directors, and the annual Weekend With Shakespeare, SCS will be providing a free groundling ticket (the open picnic area just in front of the stage) for anyone under 18 years of age accompanied by a paying adult. The 2015 season runs from June 30 to August 30.

The forward-funding method has already netted the company 75% of this season's operating costs. But donations are always welcome, so visit the SCS website for further details on all of the above. Then get ready to get wicked!

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