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March 13, 2000

Summer theater festival pairs Shakespeare with French existentialist

By Barbara McKenna

For its 19th season, Shakespeare Santa Cruz will take its audiences across the ages, with plays set in ancient Britain, Renaissance France, and 19th-century England. The plays are Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost, directed by Daniel Fish; Shakespeare's Cymbeline, directed by Danny Scheie; and Jean Paul Sartre's Kean, directed by Michael Edwards.

Photo: Shakespeare's Othello
Robert Jason Jackson and Lise Bruneau in Shakespeare Santa Cruz's 1998 production of Othello
Photo: Shmuel Thaler
The season opens with preview performances on July 12, with all three plays open and running in repertory Tuesdays through Sundays between July 27 and August 27. To see a tentative performance schedule, please see the Festival Calendar.

The 2000 season features several popular Shakespeare Santa Cruz (SSC) veterans, including SSC artistic director Paul Whitworth, who will play the title role in Kean, and directors Edwards and Scheie, both of whom are former artistic directors of SSC and have, between them, directed dozens of plays for SSC, as well as across the globe. Fish has directed for the McCarter Theater, the Shakespeare Theater in Washington, D.C., Court Theater in Chicago, the Juilliard School, SUNY Purchase, and the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, among others.

The festival always offers a rich diversity of activities to complement the season's theatrical performances. Two of the most popular and long-standing events are the Weekend with Shakespeare conference and the Noon at the Nick luncheon lecture series.

Weekend with Shakespeare is a three-day conference featuring lectures by leading scholars, panel presentations, tours and, of course, the plays themselves (tickets are not included in conference costs). This annual conference, sponsored by UCSC's Focused Research Activity in Shakespeare and Early Drama, provides an opportunity to explore the links between scholarship and performance. Weekend with Shakespeare will run August 11-13 at the Theater Arts Center. The cost is $40 per person for the six discussion/lectures.

Noon at the Nick is a free brown-bag discussion series at the Nickelodeon Theater at 210 Lincoln Street in downtown Santa Cruz. Lively discussions will feature festival directors, actors, and designers. Lectures begin at noon and run July 7-August 4.

SSC now offers special family prices through its Family Sundays program. On each of the five Sunday matinee performances during the season, patrons may buy up to two special $6 youth tickets with the purchase of each adult ticket. Tickets prices are valid for children aged 5 to 18.

For tickets and more information, call (831) 459-2159.

Below are synopses of the plays, which can also be found at the Shakespeare Santa Cruz Web site.

Love's Labour's Lost

Eager to win eternal fame as scholars, the young King of Navarre and his three lords vow to study in solitude and contemplation for three years. The edict, which encompasses all of the court including the hilarious assortment of characters who inhabit its fringes, prohibits women from coming within a mile of the court. The king, however, has forgotten that the Princess of France and her three ladies are due to arrive on a diplomatic mission.

Complications arise as the young men struggle to maintain their scholarly aspirations against the allure of love. The women, forced to camp on the outskirts of the court as they wait for a resolution to their mission, amuse themselves in making a sport out of the men's naive attempts to woo them.

Shakespeare's wittiest comedy is a battle between the sexes fought with words and set against a background of youthful idealism and romantic yearning.


Cymbeline is the King of Britain during the reign of Augustus Caesar in Rome. By his first marriage, he has a daughter, Imogen, as well as two sons who were stolen away at birth and are now presumed dead. Contrary to her father's wishes, Imogen has married Posthumous, a commoner. In anger, Cymbeline banishes Posthumous to Rome.

There Posthumous meets Iachimo who, hearing Imogen praised for her chastity, wagers he can seduce her. Iachimo returns to Posthumous with false proof of Imogen's infidelity, and the devastated Posthumous writes to his servant to arrange Imogen's death. The faithful servant instead helps Imogen to escape, disguised as a boy, to Milford-Haven where she is taken in by an old man whose two sons grow strangely fond of her.

Meanwhile, because Cymbeline has refused to pay tribute to Rome, the Roman army (including the disillusioned Posthumous) invades Britain at Milford-Haven. In the aftermath of the ensuing battle all is put right.

Written at the height of Shakespeare's experimentation with the fairytale-like conventions of romance, Cymbeline is his most visionary and optimistic work. In Imogen, he has written a character whose loyalty and strength of heart guide her through devastation and betrayal to a reconciliation which confirms all that is exhilarating about our strangest dreams.


Jean Paul Sartre's play is based on the magnetic 19th-century actor, Edmund Kean. As the play opens, Kean is at the top of his profession. He is adored by theater audiences and secretly favored by many society ladies. He is also perilously in debt and bitterly aware that he is considered a déclassé vulgarian by society.

His tumultuous affair with the Countess Elena de Koefeld comes to a dramatic climax during a performance of Othello. Distraught by the sight of Elena's apparent betrayal with the Prince of Wales, Kean tears through the veil of theatrical illusion to berate the prince in Othello's words. Finding his own despair no match for Othello's grand passion, Kean grows skeptical of the authenticity of his own feeling after so skillfully pretending the emotions of others for so long.

The play is both an exploration of the existential angst of the individual and a mordantly funny satire of the intrigues of the 19th-century Romantic drama.

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