Photograph by Steve DiBartolomeo
As they liked it: Christopher Oden and Shannon Warrick starred in last summer's 'As You Like It,' outside in the Festival Glen, for Shakespeare Santa Cruz.
Caliban and Audrey II, too--in one town in one summer
By Michael S. Gant
We moderns think so highly of Shakespeare, that even parodists proceed with caution. The wags of the 17th-century Restoration harbored no such qualms. About 60 years after The Tempest first stormed the London stage, it rated a rewrite by Dryden and William Davenant, which included a female monster--Caliban's sister. Then along came Thomas Duffett, dissed by the Dictionary of National Biography as "a milliner ... who unfortunately took to play-writing" and whose work is "beneath contempt."
When you're looking up at contempt, anything goes, and Duffett's The Mock Tempest, or, The Enchanted Castle took the familiar characters--Prospero, Alonzo, Miranda et al.--and gave them nonsense lines ("Advance the fringed curtains of thine eyes" becomes "Advance the frizled frouzes of thine eyes") to intone. Dryden was not amused at the jest and sniffed, "The dullest scribblers some admirers found, / And the Mock Tempest was a while renown'd: / But this low stuff the town at last despis'd, / And scorn'd the folly that they once had priz'd."
Duffett, a playwright clearly in need of reviving (who wouldn't want to see Psyche Debauch'd?), finally gets his due this August, when Shakespeare Santa Cruz presents a Fringe Production version of The Mock Tempest that draws on the spirit of Duffett's original and adds some cheeky extras of its own.
The source for Duffett's tomfoolery remains, of course, inviolate. This summer, Shakespeare Santa Cruz will present The Tempest outside in the Festival Glen. The encircling redwoods can impart the enchantment of Prospero's island kingdom, where the wizard rules with a kind of magic that is, as the festival managing director, Marcus Cato, says, "a metaphor for theater."
Directing will be Kirsten Brandt, who lives near Santa Cruz and works as a resident director at San Jose Repertory Theatre. In her years with the avant-garde Sledgehammer Theatre in San Diego, Brandt pushed the limits of stagecraft (writing an intriguing new take of the Ring Cycle called Berzerkergang), but although she has done "a lot of site-specific work," she admits that she has "never done an outside production before." Noting that The Tempest has both matinee and evening performances, she says that "it is like directing two different plays." The challenge is worth it, according to Cato, who, with proprietary bias, calls the glen "the most beautiful outdoor performing space."
Photograph by Jana Marcus
Botanical beauties: Ashley Little, Victoria Morgan and Briana Michaud put the petal to the metal in 'Little Shop of Horrors,' this summer at Cabrillo Stage.
Neatly eliding the arguments over how to describe the Bard's strange late play, Brandt calls The Tempest "a beautiful romantic and funny play about revenge"--which seems to cover all the bases from comedy to romance to tragedy.
In keeping with Shakespeare Santa Cruz's aversion to traditional staging, Brandt is moving the play into the art nouveau era, somewhere between 1900 and World War I. It was a period, she says, "when women [were] breaking free from the Victorian mold." The costumes will be flowing, "industrial yet infused with nature," a clash that describes the basic thrust of a play "about a man trying to control nature on an island."
The Tempest's companion in the glen is Much Ado About Nothing, another comedic story of love and romance, showcasing two sides of the age-old debate about whether 'tis nobler in the mind to endure the slings and arrows of outrageous marriage. Representing true love are Hero and Claudio; steadfastly proclaiming singlehood are tart-tongued Beatrice and Benedick, "everybody's favorite stage couple," says Cato. As in The Tempest, where Prospero finally relinquishes his magical powers, in Much Ado, two couples face what Cato calls the "paradox of relationships: how "giving up control somehow leads to a high level of freedom between people."
This year, for the first time since 1993, the festival presents four plays, instead of the normal three. Cato says that the expansion is in response to audience surveys indicating that the groundlings want some contemporary classics to round out their Shakespearean experience.
Indoors at the Theatre Arts Mainstage, the festival will present two 20th-century mainstays. J.M. Synge's Playboy of the Western World is set in a small Irish village where one Christy Mahon flees, having smote his father. Naturally, this makes him a celebrity to all the colleens in the vicinity. "He rises to the level of people's expectations" and becomes an unlikely hero, says Cato.
The season rounds out with Samuel Beckett's austere Endgame, a bleak parable about an old blind master named Hamm and his endless squabbles with his servant Clov. In Groundhog Day fashion, Beckett's characters keep reworking the day before. Hamm is often seen as Beckett's nod to the towering figures of the Shakespearean repertoire (especially Hamlet and Lear). Appropriately, Paul Whitworth, in his last year as Shakespeare Santa Cruz's artistic director, plays Hamm. Hamm's parents, Nagg and Nell, who have no legs and must spend their lives in trash cans, add to the absurd atmosphere. Did we mention that it's a comedy?
This year's edition of Cabrillo Stage shares some Shakespearean notions with the festival on a hill. For starters, instead of a single musical, Cabrillo Stage goes into repertory overdrive, with two productions. And one of them is Kiss Me Kate, which follows the misadventures of some acting couples who are fussing and fighting in a try-out production for a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew; meanwhile, all their romantic vitriol gets carried backstage.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Archives
Shady operations: Keep out of the harsh rays of the sun this summer by catching 'Kiss Me Kate' and 'Little Shop of Horrors' at Cabrillo Stage.
The Cole Porter musical ("Wunderbar," "Brush Up Your Shakespeare") debuted in 1948 on Broadway and was translated to the big screen in 1953 with Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Tommy Rall and, most memorably, Ann Miller, tapping her heart out. Interest in the musical was rekindled after a successful Broadway revival in 2000.
As for any connections between the Bard and Little Shop of Horrors--well, perhaps only the bloodletting in Titus Andronicus comes to mind. Based on the cheesy 1960 Roger Corman classic, the musical takes a young man's botanical discovery and morphs it into Audrey II, a man-eater with a taste for R&B songs. Of course, the real horror is the visit to the dentist's office. Most people would rather get a massage from Lady Macbeth.
Shakespeare Santa Cruz
UC-Santa Cruz Campus; three plays run in repertory, plus many special events. See www.shakespearesantacruz.org for ticket and schedule details.
Much Ado About Nothing--July 18-Sept. 2
The Tempest--July 31-Sept. 2
Playboy of the Western World--July 29-Sept. 2
Endgame--July 17-Sept. 2
The Mock Tempest--Aug. 14 and 21 at 7:30pm
Cabrillo Theater, 6500 Soquel Dr., Aptos; $15-$31; 831.479.6154 or see www.cabrillostage.com for details.
Little Shop of Horrors--June 29-July 22
Kiss Me Kate--July 20-Aug. 19
Send a letter to the editor about this story.