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Old Globe Shakespeare Festival brings delights

The Old Globe is gearing up to open its annual Summer Shakespeare Festival - an outdoor theatrical marathon that spans the summer from June 14 through September 28.

The festival will feature three Shakespeare classics in rotating repertory. This year’s mix includes “Romeo and Juliet” (the tragedy surrounding star-crossed lovers that has inspired countless adaptations, including the Broadway blockbuster, “West Side Story”), “The Merry Wives of Windsor” (featuring the notorious Sir John Falstaff, one of the most beloved characters in the literature), and “All’s Well That Ends Well,” a comedy that abounds with wit and romance.

Darko Tresnjak - returning for his fifth year as artistic director of the Summer Shakespeare Festival - selected this trio of masterpieces by the Bard, and chose the directors to stage them in the alfresco ambiance of the festival stage.

Tresnjak will take on the directing challenges of “All’s Well That Ends Well” himself, and he has snared Richard Seer (who directed the Globe’s successful production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in 2007) to take the reigns of “Romeo and Juliet.” Paul Mullins - a favorite with local audiences who staged last summer’s highly acclaimed “Measure for Measure” - is at the helm of “The Merry Wives of Windsor.”

All three directors met the press recently to discuss their plans. They all intend to put their personal stamp on these very well-known masterpieces - which is no mean feat, since the plays have been staples on the world stage since Elizabethan times.

As Tresnjak pointed out, “We’ve gone back to the repertory format (a time-honored tradition begun by Founding Director Craig Noel). The three-production Shakespeare Festival was revived in 2004, and this popular summer festival has become one of the most celebrated classical festivals in the country.

“In a repertory company,” Tresnjak noted, “everyone is like family. They know each other, and that makes it easier to work together.”

As usual, Tresnjak was excited about this summer’s trio of plays and the way “the plays speak to each other. They’re all about love and family - or perhaps more accurately desire and family,” he corrected. “The plays (focus on) head-strong teenagers.”

Tresnjak wanted to direct “All’s Well That Ends Well,” because, “it’s one of my favorites. Helena is my favorite character. She’s the first woman doctor in Western literature. It’s also one of Shakespeare’s most Chekhovian plays.”

Look for an interesting change in time and place for this production. Tresnjak set the play before the First World War. “All’s Well That Ends Well” will launch the summer season on June 14.

Mullins was drawn to “Merry Wives…" because of the love-hate relationship the play has had with critics. Another attraction was the play’s uniqueness:

“It’s all about ordinary people,” he observed. “No aristocrats.” Of course – like so many other Shakespeare buffs - Mullins finds Falstaff “a genius of a character.”

Where do you think this play will take place when it bows in on the outdoor stage?

“The setting is 1875 in the Old West,” Mullins stated. “The idea is to have a good time. It should end in fun.”

“Romeo and Juliet” is the most tragic tale of the summer, but Seer sees it as a “play of passion” that ends with the lovers being together in the only way possible - in death.

The three shows will be performed in nightly rotation, which makes the actors’ jobs even more grueling. They will shift roles regularly throughout the summer - and the festival stage is lit up every night except Monday.

Tresnjak and his colleagues are thrilled to welcome back so many of the Globe’s popular associate artists - an impressive list of talent that includes Jonathan McMurtry and Kandis Chappell. Chappell will play Lady Capulet in “Romeo and Juliet,” and the Countess of Rousillion in “All’s Well…" McMurtry will appear in all three summer productions. Look for Graham Hamilton to star as Romeo and Heather Wood as his Juliet - just to name a few of the top-notch performers coming our way in the Shakespeare Festival.

Not all the plays this summer will be performed in the outdoor theater.

The Globe’s Main Stage will feature “The Pleasure of His Company,” a play set in 1959. Best remembered as the Fred Astaire and Debbie Reynolds film, “Pleasure of His Company” (also directed by Tresnjak) is slated to open on July 12 and run through Aug. 17.

There will be some changes made in the Old Globe theater complex this summer. When “The Glass Menagerie” closes at the Cassius Carter on May 18, the theater will be demolished to make room for a brand new state-of-the-art facility on the same footprint. Does that mean, the Globe won’t be presenting any plays in an intimate theater-in-the-round setting for a while?

“We’re going to the Copley Auditorium (at the nearby Museum of Art) temporarily,” said Louis Spisto, Executive Producer of the Old Globe. “The museum was a God-send. The Copley will have comfortable seating and it will be configured almost identical to the Carter. We’ll be there from July to the following November - a year and four months - and we’re so grateful to them.”

As its maiden offering, the Copley will feature “Sight Unseen” (opening Aug. 2 and running through Sept. 7). The play (written by Donald Margulies and directed by Esther Emery) was chosen as “common ground” for a theater piece performed in an art museum.

“Don Margulies was trained as a visual artist,” Jerry Patch (co-artistic director) reminded. “It was hard to find the perfect play for a museum setting.”

All told, there will be five shows on the boards this summer – compliments of the Old Globe. And the new three-theater complex will re-emerge in 2010 (the Globe’s 75th anniversary year).

Despite a sluggish economy, ticket sales at the Old Globe have been “better than we budgeted for,” Spisto said.

In fact, the only disappointing news from the Globe these days is the fact that Patch will be leaving the company for a post in New York. That leaves Tresnjak as sole artistic director. There are no plans to replace Patch as co-artistic director anytime soon, but as Spisto assured, “The structure stays as it was - with Darko (Tresnjak) and myself trying to do what’s best for the Globe.”

You can call the box office at (619) 23-GLOBE for ticket information on the summer slate, or check the Web site at

www.TheOldGlobe.org

.