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[whitespace] All the World's a Stage: Danny Scheie and Simon Kelly donned modern dress for Shakespeare Santa Cruz's 1990 production of 'The Winter's Tale.'

Bad Boy Of The Bard

Controversial director Danny Scheie returns to Shakespeare Santa Cruz for a season that showcases the festival's visionary icons

By Rob Pratt

THE IMAGE of Shakespeare Santa Cruz is forever etched in the minds of longtime fans. It's a festival of wild chances with centuries-old texts that audiences thought they knew but that come alive with shocking immediacy: Prince Hal as a punk rocker motoring into the festival glen on a chopper, Hamlet musing in the Kennedy-era White House or The Merry Wives of Windsor playing on a trailer-park set.

None of those take-away images of festivals past was crafted by director Danny Scheie, who also served as the festival's artistic director for the 1993-1995 seasons, but somehow, Scheie has come to represent the festival's wilder side. His return to Shakespeare Santa Cruz to direct Cymbeline this season marks the first time since 1995 that three of the principal visionaries of the festival's 18-year history--Scheie, Michael Edwards and Paul Whitworth--have come together for the season. And with a challenging lineup of plays (Jean-Paul Sartre's Kean, directed by Edwards and starring Whitworth, in addition to Shakespeare's experimental Cymbeline and battle-of-the-sexes comedy Love's Labour's Lost), the festival takes a look at big questions--of fidelity, identity and the very nature of existence--more directly than in recent seasons.

Big questions are easy for Scheie. He's a fast talker, breezily delivering deep meditations on plot points and prone to run-ons. His rhythm is more the cadence of a young man delivering an animated story to a group of intimates than the musings of a theater professor who penned a serious tome (Sexual Darkness in Shakespeare's Comedies) for his doctoral thesis.

After leaving as Shakespeare Santa Cruz's artistic director after the 1995 season, voicing frustration with the festival's board of directors, Scheie has proven himself one of the Bay Area's leading directors. Recently, he turned in a much-lauded staging of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors (a play that has become one of his directorial signature works) for an Aurora Theatre Company production in Berkeley; last year, he earned a clutch of Critics' Circle nominations for As Bees in Honey Drown produced in Mountain View by TheaterWorks.

'I'M NOT DOING controversy for controversy's sake," Scheie says, his words now measured after I had asked what it might be in his directing that made him a lightening rod for criticism during his earlier tenure with Shakespeare Santa Cruz. "I'm proud of the fact that my work is controversial, because I think all great art is. I think mediocre art isn't controversial. And, you know, it probably started with the first artist.

"Usually, though, I'm interested in talking about why I've made choices in terms of the play," he continues. "I don't actually make choices to rile people up. I do them to make it interesting for them and to make it interesting for me. Usually, it's about getting them to follow the plays."

Lately, Scheie has been getting classical. He carries around with him CDs of Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio. He's taking much of the musical backdrop for Cymbeline from the Beethoven opera, which, Scheie says, tells a story with strong parallels to Cymbeline. The truly fascinating figure in Cymbeline for Scheie, though, is not the title character but his daughter, Imogen, who faces many of the same identity crises as Leonore in Beethoven's opera.

"What happens to Imogen is, like a lot of other Shakespeare characters, she has to lose," he explains. "She loses her husband, and then she escapes the court, so she's not a princess anymore. She goes disguised as a boy, so she loses all the trappings of the identity of who she was--and that's the point when you really find yourself. Then she gives herself her boy name, Fidele, which means faithful. I don't know if Beethoven got it from Shakespeare--it's a very common Italian word--but Fidelio is about a woman who to save her husband goes into drag as a boy and calls herself Fidelio, though her real name is Leonore."

Cymbeline, though, is a very complicated play, Scheie says--one of many plot turns, of narrative movement over language play or philosophical exposition ("more than usual, Shakespeare doesn't take time out to just yak--he doesn't have time to") and one that poses philosophical questions that to modern audiences ring of the mid-20th-century existentialism of Sartre and Samuel Beckett.

"I think what Shakespeare did at the end of his life--the last three plays he did were Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest--was he was really challenging himself," Scheie explains. "The Winter's Tale was seeing how much he can get away with really wacky theatrical devices like the use of time, jumping over 17 years, having a statue come back to life. In The Tempest it was maybe putting himself on stage or just the idea of starting a play with what we would consider unsophisticated special effects--a shipwreck--and putting the unstageable on stage. Cymbeline I think was about how much nonstop action and intertwining storylines can he keep going--how many balls can he juggle at once."

SCHEIE'S CYMBELINE JOINS productions of Love's Labour's Lost, directed by festival newcomer Daniel Fish, and Kean, which brings together again one of Shakespeare Santa Cruz's most enduring partnerships. Starring current artistic director Whitworth in the title role and directed by Edwards, who, in addition to serving as festival artistic director between 1988 and 1992, has staged more plays for Shakespeare Santa Cruz than any other director, Kean returns to a recurring festival theme: theater as a metaphor for and an influence on real life.

Shakespeare Santa Cruz opens the 2000 festival season Saturday with Love's Labour's Lost at 2pm in the Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen. Kean opens July 24 at Mainstage, and Cymbeline opens July 27 in the festival glen. In addition to the plays, the festival offers discussions and workshops on Shakespeare, backstage tours and family events.


Festival at a Glance

Openings: Love's Labour's Lost, Saturday at 2pm; Kean, July 25 at 8pm; Cymbeline, July 27 at 8pm. Plays run at various times Tuesdays through Sundays through Aug 27.

Venues: The Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen and Mainstage theater, both in the Theater Arts Center, UCSC.

Tickets: Discounted tickets are available on shows before Aug 7. Early season prices are $29-$19 ($12 for previews Wednesday-Friday and July 21-26); late-season prices are $32-$21. Also, reduced-price student matinees Tuesdays-Fridays; family Sundays with reduced-price youth tickets.

Related Events: Noon at the Nick, a weekly discussion Fridays at noon at the Nickelodeon Theater with festival production staff; backstage tours, July 22 and 29 and Aug. 6, 19 and 26 beginning at 11am (reservations required: 459.5109); Weekend With Shakespeare and Sartre, a three-day intensive on festival plays Aug. 11-13 (reservations: 459.2159).

Ticket Office: 459.2159 (or, for group sales, Terri Fette at 457.8549). Tickets also available online at http://www.shakespearesantacruz.org.


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From the July 12-19, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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