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Addicted To Love

[whitespace] Shakespeare Santa Cruz

Shakespeare Santa Cruz celebrates its own coming of age with plays devoted to love's rites of passage

By Mary Spicuzza

AT FIRST GLANCE, Shakespeare Santa Cruz's promotional posters now dotting downtown seem standard romantic fare. A single white rose balances gracefully, surrounded by shimmering stars. But a closer look reveals that the budding flower, traditionally a symbol of innocence, is drinking from a glass of blood as bees hover around its thorns. Deep hues seep into the rose, flooding its pale petals with a red rich enough to color a Valentine's Day bouquet.

Although gruesome, nothing could capture the lifeblood of the 1999 Summer Festival Season better than an image of passion overtaking purity. All three plays, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and The Two Gentlemen of Verona, as well as George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man, honor the coming-of-age ritual. Shakespeare Santa Cruz--celebrating its own rite of passage as it turns 18 this summer--features early works by two of the century's most heralded playwrights.

"A season filled with comedy, passion and wonderful language, Shakespeare and Shaw in love anticipated everything there is to know about '90s angst, but said it better," says Paul Whitworth, the festival's artistic director.


The Schedule: Dates, times, and ticket information for the 18th season.


DURING THE COMPANY'S recent media event, themes of youth, love and war dominated the discussion. Gwyneth Paltrow references were kept to a respectable minimum, as Whitworth favored more unusual inspirations, including a mention of Alfred Hitchcock just as a pigeon straight out of the Birds dive-bombed a nearby skylight. Distancing the festival from Hollywood's current Shakespeare fetish, Whitworth insisted he'd chosen this year's lineup before he ever heard of Shakespeare in Love, which featured both Romeo and Two Gents.

"The plays I selected deal with romance or the re-examination of romance--a word, interestingly enough, never used by Shakespeare himself," Whitworth says. "He saw love as a radical challenge to the identity of men and women."

Whatever Santa Cruz's directors use for inspiration, it's obviously working. The festival continues to draw high praise--even mainstream moguls from USA Today recently named Shakespeare Santa Cruz one of the top 10 Shakespeare festivals in North America.

Continuing its tradition of throwing an unexpected twist into its homage to the "Man of the Millennium," the festival features a play from one of this century's most vocal bard-haters, George Bernard Shaw. Whitworth, however, says that Shaw was a closet Shakespeare fan, once again hinting that it's a thin, blurry line between love and hate.

While all three directors--Whitworth, Tim Ocel and Tom Prewitt--dished gossip about the playwrights, they also offered sneak previews of this year's cast and crew. "You should see the billowy-shirted saps who audition for the role of Romeo," Whitworth confessed while introducing our Romeo, Dominic Comperatore. Comperatore, thankfully not clad in a Seinfeldian puffy shirt, makes his debut with the Santa Cruz troupe, but has performed on Broadway and throughout New York City.

The festival crew also includes a special fight choreographer, actor William Hulings, and set designer Ramsey Avery, creator of theme parks and roller coasters throughout the U.S.

Socialist Shaw would be proud to know the festival builds on its commitment to making theater accessible, with discounts for students, seniors and families, as well as Noon at the Nick sessions with cast and crew.

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From the July 14-21, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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