With bread, wine and blankets in tow, it’s delightful to sit in an audience sourced from all over the country, many of whom have navigated airports, freeways and even the labyrinthine UC Santa Cruz campus to locate the annual world-renowned Shakespeare Santa Cruz festival.
Its mission, according to the Shakespeare Santa Cruz website, is “…to cultivate the imagination, wit, daring, and vision that the greatest playwrights demand of artists and audiences alike.”
The company performs each year in “The Glen,” UCSC’s outdoor theater between the Media Theater and Kerr Hall. This summer’s outdoor season showed Shakespeare’s “Henry the IV Part II,” and Alexandre Dumas’s “The Man in the Iron Mask,” which, together, complemented last season’s productions of Dumas’s “The Three Musketeers” and Shakespeare’s “Henry IV.”
While a sequel in the “King Henry IV” trilogy (or tetralogy, to dedicated Shakespeare scholars), “Henry IV Part II” easily stands alone. Although the play is applicable across audiences, many first-year UCSC students away from home would have found young Henry’s conflict — of both losing and finding his father — pertinent.
A timeless performance unfolded in the dramatic redwoods with strong performances by Charles Pasternak as the adolescent Prince Henry, V. Craig Heidenreich as his aging father and the unforgettable Sir John Falstaff, played by Richard Ziman.
A contrasting indoor production of “Twelfth Night” took Grandma’s recipe for romantic comedy and froze it in hot sauce, exposing both the sharper side of farce and demonstrating how resilient Shakespeare’s works are to such stress tests.
For director Marco Barricelli, who normally serves as artistic director, the emphasis was on keeping the play “out of the realm of reality and in the realm of fantasy.” Colorful, opulent costumes and existential pantomime face paint easily evoked themes of the fantastical — but Tim Burton and Shakespeare didn’t always seem an ideal pairing.
The play’s basic farce lies in a concealed identity of the cross-dressing kind. Shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria, leading lady Viola disguises herself as a male servant to work under the reigning Duke Orsino. She falls in love with her boss, who in turn falls in love with his secretary (Countess Olivia). Olivia, completing the triangle, has also developed a thing for the disguised Viola.
While it sometimes felt the players spent more time animating their costumes than acting their characters, “Twelfth Night” managed to fold the play’s maxim of “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em” back onto itself in a successfully comedic way. The indoor production of “Twelfth Night” took risks and landed tastefully.
With an adaptation written by seasoned Shakespeare Santa Cruz director Scott Wentworth and directed by John Sipes, “The Man in the Iron Mask” completed this season’s through-line of hidden identities and was a savory treat for audiences, leaving them hungry for more.