Let's Review: Shakespeare goes to prison and all’s well that ends well

For a few short hours on a recent Thursday, the daily regime for more than 100 inmates at Centinela State Prison was drastically altered. The inmates were brought into the prison gym to partake in the Old Globe’s touring production of Shakespeare's “All's Well That Ends Well,” part of the Globe For All program.

Envisioned by Globe Artistic Director Barry Edelstein, the touring production has made its way through San Diego, presenting at several underserved venues. Getting permission to bring actors, cameras and media into the prison facility took some work, but was welcomed by the prison staff.

After walking through several buildings and showing IDs, the group met Richard Dubbe, public information officer at Centinela, which is part of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Dubbe, who has worked in the prison for 19 years, welcomed The Globe team and media, informing all about how the day would proceed and offering some insight into the prison.

He said the prison houses about 3,500 inmates, but a few years ago that number was more than 5,000. These days, many of those who commit low-level crimes go to county jails. Centinela has 1,300 employees and 625 officers.

When asked what a program like Globe For All does for inmates, Dubbe said, “Programs in the past have been religious or self-help based, but this is the first time we’ve had something like this. It will be interesting to see how this play is received.”

Escorted to the gym, The Globe team got to work. The actors placed tape on the floor to mark off an invisible stage and set up props and made a few costume changes.

The inmates chosen to see the play volunteered. With such a unique situation about to begin, prison officials, inmates, actors and director Edelstein, were all anxious to see how it would play out. Most of the audience had never seen a theatrical production, much less one as highbrow as Shakespeare. Would they laugh at the right time? Understand the plot? Fall asleep? Ultimately, enjoy it?

Actors worked to answer these questions as they sifted through the seated inmates, talking about plays, Shakespeare, what to expect, who their characters were and things in general.

It took a while for the inmates to get the gist. As the story unfolded and some of the scenes were full-on comedic, the inmates began to laugh out loud. The scene between Bertram (Adam Gerber) and Diana (Allison Layman), his “supposed” betrothed, had the men loudly clapping and focused on the story from thereon. Several expressed their gratitude to the actors and thanked them for entertainment beyond their expectations.

Ken Phillips, Community Resource Manager with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, was one of the principals who green-lighted this activity. “We’re interested in things that make better opportunities for inmates,” he said. “It’s a rehabilitative program, and this is a new idea. We like to assist those here any way we can to change their ideas or thoughts, and to do that we bring in positive activities.”

Inmate Tyrone Rogers commented, “To bring entertainment that will uplift the spirit of the inmates and give us an opportunity to see something different is great. I’ve seen a few Shakespeare plays, not sure I’m a fan, but maybe the performance today will change my mind.”

The activity was also an eye-opener for cast members as they mingled among the inmates. “This has been very surreal for me,” said Kush Hoxha, who portrayed the King of France. “In doing this in front of people who are not able to see Shakespeare, it hits me, and I appreciate even more the thing that I do. We are all privileged to be going to these places and performing. I think people should be entitled to watch Shakespeare — money or not — so this is a great idea from Barry and The Globe.”

The cast included recent Old Globe/USD M.F.A. Program graduates Meaghan Boeing (Countess, Soldier, Priest, Mariana), Adam Gerber (Bertram), Kushtrim Hoxha (King, Interpreter), Stephen Hu (Lafeu, Soldier), Allison Layman (Diana, Physician, Soldier), Erin Roché (Helena), and Robbie Simpson (Parolles); Old Globe/USD alumnus Christopher Salazar (First Lord Dumaine); Monique Gaffney (Renata, Widow, Physician) and Albert Park (Second Lord Dumaine).

Warden Amy Miller, whom colleagues say focuses on the positive, was pleased with the event and hopes to have it return. “Definitely a world-class production,” Miller said. “This is something that, hopefully, sparks interest, helps the inmates see a different side, a different part of the world that maybe they’ve never considered, and to branch out and consider different things, maybe grow and learn. If they’re here just for a good time, that’s OK, too, because prison is a difficult place to be.”

The prison has four facilities and Miller hopes to have all of them get the opportunity to see a play. “And maybe even form a partnership to get inmates involved in theater,” she said. “People underestimate the value of speaking skills and how to communicate. A large percentage of these folks are going to have to go into a community and do job interviews, and tell people ‘we are felons, but we have skills, and a reason to be hired.’ ”

Edelstein was thrilled the inmates responded so well to the show, and hopes to take the show to a women’s prison next.

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