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SAN DIEGO
Regional Reviews by Bill Eadie

2013 Shakespeare Festival
The Old Globe

Also see Bill's review of The Rainmaker


The Old Globe's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre
San Diego's Old Globe Theatre began life in 1935 as a facility where abridged versions of Shakespeare's plays were staged during the California Pacific International Exposition. The theatre company that would eventually become known as The Old Globe leased the facility at the close of the exposition in 1937 and, while Shakespeare's work was regularly staged by that company, the initial San Diego National Shakespeare Festival was not held until the summer of 1949. Virtually every summer since that time, the company has focused at least some of its summer offerings on Shakespeare. In 1978, the operation moved outdoors to a space at the edge of the San Diego Zoo, and there it has remained, often trading stage sound effects with the calls of wild animals.

In 2010, Adrian Noble, former artistic director of Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company, began his leadership of what by then was called the Shakespeare Festival. Even though things were a little rocky at the start (star player Patrick Page was suddenly called on to honor his commitment to the Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark musical in New York, and Mr. Noble lucked out when his old friend, Miles Anderson, was available and agreed to fill Mr. Page's shoes two days before rehearsals were to begin), critics and audiences alike noticed a definitive step up in the quality of the festival.

Now, four years later, Mr. Noble is helming his final Shakespeare Festival, as Barry Edelstein, the Old Globe's recently-hired artistic director, is a Shakespeare expert and will take over festival leadership duties next summer.

For his grand finale, Mr. Noble has produced a season that is grand, indeed.

Happily, Mr. Anderson worked out so well as the mad King George that the Old Globe has invited him back each summer. And this summer, Mr. Anderson is the lynchpin in the success of the festival as a whole, as he plays Shylock in The Merchant of Venice and Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Both of Mr. Anderson's performances demonstrate how a master actor creates a character that is not only memorable but in synch with the director's vision for the production.

Let's start with Midsummer, which was directed by Ian Talbot, who was for twenty years the chief of the Open Air Theatre in London's Regent's Park. A lot of productions of this play find ways to go wild, and I thought one in particular (directed by Joe Calarco at DC's Shakespeare Theatre) would spoil the show for me after I saw it. But, Mr. Talbot's Midsummer has won me over with its simplicity and lack of glitz. No gimmicks for this version; let's just trust the text and give the actors something to play.

The result is magical, as it should be, and Mr. Anderson gives the funniest performance of the bunch without once resorting to over-the-top theatrics. The rest of the company follows suit and with Jay Whittaker, the other stalwart leading actor in this year's troupe, setting the pace as Oberon and Theseus, the complicated story unfolds both sensibly and in a flash.

Mr. Anderson's Shylock, on the other hand, anchors a Merchant that is as beautiful to behold as it is unflinching in its portrayal of love, anti-Semitism, and revenge in a mythical version of the center of the universe. Under Mr. Noble's sensitive direction, Mr. Anderson's Shylock is shaken to his core by his daughter eloping to marry a Christian, and this incident allows him to act in an ultimately tragic manner on his resentments toward a society that spat upon him and his kind. Ralph Funicello's set combines the crisscross of the Venetian canals with the far-away elegance of Portia's (Krystel Lucas) estate in Padua, while Deidre Clancy's elegant costumes exceed her usual high standard.

Mr. Anderson does not appear in the third production, Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, but Mr. Whittaker takes over and together with John Lavelle creates a Vladimir and Estragon worthy of invading Shakespeare's Hamlet and challenging life's most existential question: "To be or not to be." Sherman Howard steps out of the shadows to provide, as The Player, a larger-than-life presence that serves to modulate the antics of the two leads. Mr. Noble's direction sets a perfectly absurdist tone for the proceedings and appropriately spoofs the big costume dramas (such as Inherit the Wind) that served as the festival's third play in previous years. It is as if he is tipping his hat, taking a bow, and gliding effortlessly off-stage.

Mr. Edelstein has already demonstrated himself to be a prodigious Shakespearian, and I am very much looking forward to his Winter's Tale next February. But, Mr. Noble's tenure has been memorable, and I'm sorry to see him go. If you can make it to San Diego before the end of September, make it a priority to see one or more of these absolutely first-rate productions.

Tickets for the Old Globe's Shakespeare Festival may be obtained by contacting the box office at (619) 23-GLOBE, or online at www.oldglobe.org.


Photo: Craig Schwartz

See the current season schedule for the San Diego area.

- Bill Eadie



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