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[whitespace] Paul Whitworth Surge Forth: Shakespeare Santa Cruz artistic director, Paul Whitworth, gets in a midsummer day's surf before the festival's 20th anniversary season opens.

Night And Day

Shakespeare Santa Cruz explores the dark and light sides of human nature

By Barbara McKenna

LIKE DOROTHY, we all have times when we forget what's in our own backyards. Paul Whitworth, artistic director of Shakespeare Santa Cruz, confesses he's been guilty of this lapse.

"I've spent a lot of time in Santa Cruz since 1984 and, to my embarrassment, I've never been surfing until last month," he says. "I realize that I have denied myself a great pleasure for all these years."

Whitworth hopes others can learn from his experience and embrace the many pleasures of Santa Cruz. In fact, he has something specific in mind.

"I'm urging those people who say, year after year, that they really want to go see Shakespeare Santa Cruz but never do, to pick this 20th anniversary season to get out and see our shows. Until they come, people have no idea how much fun it is."

For those who've never gotten their feet wet, this is a good season to begin with. It features two of Shakespeare's most popular plays--A Midsummer Night's Dream and Macbeth--playing in repertory with Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer, which Whitworth calls "one of the most genuinely funny plays ever written."

The theme of this year's season is "strange intelligence"--not as in George W. Bush or Keanu Reeves, but in the subconscious, instinctive acumen that operates in us all at a deeper level. "These plays all take place at night when the submerged side of human activity is made manifest," Whitworth says.

In the case of She Stoops to Conquer, he says, Goldsmith has created "a whole gallery of characters who are prevented from growing up, from maturity, because of one spectacular emotional handicap or another."

A Midsummer Night's Dream (MSND), digs into the carnal and sacred sides of love, portraying a struggle between the constructed world of society, order and rank and the magical wilderness of instinct and sexuality.

"This play speaks to us in an extraordinarily emotional and imaginative kind of way," Whitworth says. "It's like a real dream in that it communicates to us and tell us profound truths, but in ways that are very difficult to explain."

In contrast to MSND's playful celebration of the subconscious, Macbeth depicts a dark and terrifying side. "What is thrilling about Macbeth is what he dares to think," says Whitworth, who is playing the role of the homicidal Scotsman. "Based on case histories and work done by people who've examined the play from the point of view of criminal psychology, Macbeth gives us an extraordinarily accurate depiction of how a murderer thinks and feels."

Michael Edwards, the play's director and former SSC artistic director, says that there have been moments in rehearsal when everyone in the theater involuntarily jumps in response to the action on stage. "It's a ghost story," he says, "a big, old, bloody ghost story, which is the thrill of it. Macbeth is like no one else Shakespeare ever created. The noise in his head is so much greater than anything that is going on outside. What distinguishes him from other seemingly similar characters, like Richard III and Iago, is that he has soul and imagination."

Edwards, who has directed at regional theaters and opera houses around the world, keeps finding ways to come back to Santa Cruz.

"This fact is, this festival is unique," Edwards says. "The major thing is that it's 20 years old and the people who created it are still involved with it. Another thing, this is genuine repertory theater. Other companies call themselves repertory, but there are very few who actually perform more than one play at the same time."

Two different plays are being staged out in the Festival Glen, and audiences will witness actors take on wildly different roles. This year, actor Gary Armagnac is pushing the envelope of repertory by performing in two plays in one night--as Banquo in Macbeth and Sir Charles Marlow in She Stoops. This feat is possible thanks to MacBeth's murderous zealousness. In fact, it may be one of the few times that an actor doesn't have to regret being killed off early in the show.

Shakespeare Santa Cruz opens on Saturday, July 14 at 2pm with 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' The season continues through Sept. 2. Tickets range from $14 (previews) to $33. For more information and season schedule, call 459.2159 or visit www.shakespearesantacruz.org.

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From the July 11-18, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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