Saturday, September 23, 2006

Cal Shakes

As You Like It @ California Shakes through Oct. 15
Attending a production at Cal Shakes is like going to an old friend's home. Each season I'm always pleasantly surprised to see what company member is cast in what role, and what new additions there are to the Cal Shakes performance family. I knew L. Peter Callender was in this production, he told me he would be when I interviewed him while he was in the highly successful production at the Aurora Theatre of Permanent Collection, but I didn't know he'd be both dukes, a quite funny, juxtaposition he pulled off very well.

In fact, this, my first trip to Bruns Memorial Theatre this season, was a delightful evening spent caught up in the revery of banished royals, star-crossed lovers and happy endings. I hadn't realized until I sat down to reflect on the characters and their lives how close this play is to The Tempest, where Prospero, a duke is banished by his brother, his daughter, Miranda, in love with her cousin, the other duke's son. The end of both plays a happy reconciliation.

Is nobility a state of mind or something one inherits? In the same way, is gender just as fluid, does what one believes makes it so?

Orlando's wooing of a man he pretends is Rosalind, then falling in love with said Rosalind is just as perplexing to him as it is to everyone else. Does he know in his heart, the man, is really his woman?

Then there are the various subplots Shakespeare is great at, to further complicate the already complicated lives. But this just proves how much our lives are enriched, one hopes by those we allow inside.

There are many surprises in director Jonathan Moscone's adaptation like the live orchestration and the original score. The set is marvelous, apples covering the stage in the first act, Orlando and his servant picking them up from the orchard floor. Another great touch are the Orlando's love letters on all the trees in the second act. (He even throws a few into the audience which we of course stop looking at the play to read. The letters state they are simply a prop and to keep watching the action on stage.)

It's great seeing a professional production which does justice to a script, especially one which I already knew and enjoyed. Thursday evening was a visit to familiar territory, territory I knew but not the way Cal Shakes interpreted it.

The last time I saw As You Like It, African American Shakes performed it at Yerba Buena Gardens. It was set in the antebellum south and the dukes were brothers, one white the other of African decent. The younger, Orlando, shunned by his brother not just from greed, but also race. It was a really fascinating premise that worked well.

It was a really fascinating premise that worked well, as well as The Taming of the Shrew works. Set in the ‘60s Black Power Movement, Kate is a woman of the day: independent, self-assured and headstrong. When watching the excerpt performed last month I recalled her lines as her suitor egged on by a wager sought to tame her, and recoiled at its blantant disregard to what one considers "PC" or politically correct now.

Why did Kate have to change?

Why would anyone want a broken women?

What was Shakespeare saying with this play? It reminded me of horse breakers, and slave breakers…men skilled at stealing souls.

African American Shakes' The Taming of the Shrew, continues Friday-Sunday, Sept. 22-Oct. 22 at the African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton Street, San Francisco,(415)762-2071. Visit (Sunday, Sept. 24 at 4 p.m. they will be at the Woodminster Ampitheater in Oakland (off Skyline Blvd.) for a special East Bay performance.)

As You Like It is Tuesday-Sundays, through October 15 at the Bruns Ampitheater: 100 Gateway Blvd., Orinda. There is a shuttle from the Orinda BART Station. Call the box office for tickets and times (510) 548-9666. Visit

San Francisco Shakespeare in the Park's The Tempest continues through September 24 at the Presidio in San Francisco. Visit or call (415)558-0888.

photo: Actor Daveed Diggs as Ferdinand at San Francisco Shakes post-show at Lake Merritt, Oakland


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