Shakespeare Festival returns with classic romance, drama

There’s a swashbuckling romantic turned idealist and a cross dresser who plays matchmaker to a duke. And then there’s the powerful and uncompromising general who has the gall to utter these words: “Mine ears against your suits are stronger than your gates against my force.” Sound enticing? Those are the scenarios playing in “Coriolanus,” “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “Twelfth Night.” The three classic productions are part of this summer’s Shakespeare Festival returning to The Old Globe’s Lowell Davies Festival Theatre from June 13 through Sept. 27.

The plays will stage in nightly rotation. Celebrated Old Globe Resident-Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak (“All’s Well That Ends Well,” “The Women”) will helm Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus” and “Cyrano de Bergerac” by Edmond Rostand. Paul Mullins (“The Merry Wives of Windsor,” “Macbeth”) returns to direct Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”

Tresnjak has amassed an amazing resume of work locally and internationally directing theatrical and operatic works. His love for classical plays is shared every year by the patrons who attend the Festival.

“Our audiences expect a lot from us,” Tresnjak said. “When people come to see classical theater, they know they’ll be entertained, enlightened.”

Set in Paris in 1640, “Cyrano de Bergerac” is a classic tale of romance and tragedy. Cyrano falls for the beautiful Roxane but even swordsman and French army cadet can be shy when it comes to love. With a heartfelt twist, the story blends boastfulness and sacrifice through Rostand’s beautifully written verse. Tresnjak said the play is the best kind of crowd pleaser.

“I think it’s the most generous play ever written,” he said. “It’s like a five-course meal; one moment it’s romantic, the next heartbreaking, and the next funny. That’s the play’s uniqueness. It effortlessly goes in so many directions and beyond any other playwright or play I can compare it to.”

“Twelfth Night,” a much beloved Bard comedy, finds the beautiful heroine shipwrecked in a strange land. Bravely, she disguises herself as a boy to gain work in Duke Orsino’s court. When courting rituals begin, entanglements result in mistaken identities and misplaced affections. Broadway veteran Patrick Page "(A Man For All Season,” “The Lion King”) is Malvolio in the play and also plays the lead role in “Cyrano de Bergerac.”

“Coriolanus” is a powerful political drama that is as relevant today as when it first appeared on the stage.

“I wouldn’t exactly call it a crowd pleaser,” Tresnjak said. “It has a more contemporary look, and it’s an esthetic challenge, but people respond to that. It takes place in war time but the bigger issue is the bad economy and the population’s differences of opinions in how to deal with those things. It unfolds like a thriller. It’s an exciting yarn, an incredible piece of writing and Shakespeare’s most overtly political play.”

Meeting the challenges of sophisticated plays in an outdoor area begins months before rehearsals, and requires lots of preparation. Tresnjak admitted he and the Globe artisans learn something new every year.

“Like when not to use certain fabrics,” he said. “We had an actor’s costume get caught on the trap and it stretched. They kept hemming it, but every night it kept stretching. We blacklisted that fabric. You just go with flow, like during Hamlet when it was time for the big sword fight. Every year a few hours into the play there is usually moisture on the deck, and it’s slippery. It worried us, so we adapted. The sword fight in ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ is now in the first part of the play.”

Casting, a six- or seven-month process, is critical to these productions even though they are performed by a repertory company.

“We make sure every company member in the equity company has one lead in one show and a supporting role in another,” Tresnjak said. “Then they don’t feel they have to carry the show every night. The characters of Coriolanus and Cyrano and the mother in ‘Coriolanus’ are thrilling, epic roles but very physically demanding.”

Other members of the repertory company include Globe Associate Artist Charles Janasz, Celeste Ciulla, Greg Derelian, Grant Goodman, Dana Green, Brendan Griffin, Eric Hoffmann, Katie MacNichol, James Newcomb, Bruce Turk, Gerritt Vandermeer. The Festival creative team includes: set designer Ralph Funicello; costume designers Linda Cho and Anna R. Oliver; lighting designer York Kennedy and sound designer Chris Walker.

The Globe’s Shakespeare Festival has garnered dozen of awards over the years and gained a worldwide reputation for quality work.

“I think our patrons will get a lot from the plays,” Tresnjak said. “A lot will be asked of them if they want to fully engage in the theatrical art, but it’s going to stretch them emotionally and intellectually, and they will have a lot of fun in the process.”

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