News Column

A fresh look at the Bard

July 2, 2014

By Sarah Linn, The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.)

July 02--After years of wandering around the Central Coast, the Central Coast Shakespeare Festival is back in San Luis Obispo.

The county's only outdoor theater company will present two of William Shakespeare's crowd-pleasing comedies -- "The Taming of the Shrew" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" -- on the rustic Filipponi Ranch property on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo.

The Central Coast Shakespeare Festival, which held its first independent performances at Cal Poly's Ornamental Horticulture Center, has called a variety of venues home over the years, including Camp Ocean Pines in Cambria, Bellevue-Santa Fe Charter School in Avila Beach and River Oaks Amphitheatre in Paso Robles.

"We have been pretty true to the nomadic players model. It's afforded us the ability to present our shows all over the county," said Zoe Saba, the company's artistic director. "We seem to have a really great core following who will even do the dreaded drive over the (Cuesta) Grade to Paso Robles (to see performances)."

At the same time, she added, the company has longed to find a permanent place to perform.

This season, the Central Coast Shakespeare Festival will set up stage in a natural amphitheatre nestled amid golden hills and spreading sycamore trees.

"I think people will be really excited to not only to see the beauty of this space, but (also) ... the potential of this venue," Saba said.

Kelly McCleary, a spokeswoman for the Filipponi family, said talks began more than a year ago to open an intimate performing arts venue at the ranch. The property is already home to two wineries, Clesi Wines and Filipponi Ranch Cellars.

McCleary said the family sees this year's Central Coast Shakespeare Festival as "kind of a test run" designed to determine the feasibility of hosting concerts, plays and other events there. The Filipponis have already made some improvements to the site, including grading and water access, and more upgrades could take place in the future.

"They just want to start out really small and see how this goes," said McCleary, whose partner is Filipponi Ranch Cellars winemaker Peter Cron.

Both plays this season feature sets by Nathan Brown and costumes by Roger Upton.

"The Taming of the Shrew," which runs July 10 through 26, centers on the courtship of cunning nobleman Petruchio (Miguel Torres) and the headstrong title "shrew," Katherine (Jessica Boles).

While Petruchio attempts to transform Kate into a sweetly submissive wife, three men -- Gremio (Toni Young), Hortensio (Cory Schonauer) and Lucentio (Kevin Lohmann) -- compete for the affections of her younger sister Bianca (Angela Hutt-Chamberin).

Although "The Taming of the Shrew's" rough-and-tumble treatment of Kate is seen by many as misogynistic, director Michael Hofacre said audience members shouldn't take the farce's sexist overtones to heart.

"The characters are all really outrageous, so I think the anti-woman part of (the play) is not meant to be taken seriously," he said, adding that the Bard is known for his strong female characters. "Shakespeare invented ... all these fantastic, smart, brave women."

In keeping with the play's themes, this version takes place in the male-dominated world of the Wild West.

Hofacre, a Los Angeles film editor, said he's been researching the setting by watching Western movies such as "My Darling Clementine," "Stagecoach" and "Blazing Saddles." "It's been fun to see these touchstones that are in every Western and make sure we have them," he said.

Running July 17 through Aug. 2 is "A Midsummer Night's Dream," an enchanting fantasy about feuding fairies and love-struck mortals set in a magical forest.

Into the woods wander four young lovers: Lysander (Lohmann) and Hermia (Kristie Lopez), who hope to elope; Demetrius (Schonauer), who loves Hermia; and Helena (Heather MacLeod-Schultz), whose affection for Demet-rius is unrequited.

Meanwhile, the king of the fairies, Oberon (Miguel Torres), is quarreling with his queen, Titania (Janet Stipicevich). He instructs mischievous Puck (Boles) to make the fairy queen fall in love with the first thing she sees.

That happens to be Nick Bottom (Tyler Lopez), one of the workmen who have come to the woods to rehearse the play they're performing at the wedding of Duke Theseus (Torres) and his Amazon bride, Hippolyta (Stipicevich).

Director Cynthia Totten said her "reimagined approach" for the play emphasizes its dreamlike nature.

Rather than a Renaissance court, this version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" takes place in a strict 1950s society. The "rude mechanicals" become members of a bowling team, while the fairies are exotic counterculture types.

Dance, including swing, Latin and belly dance, also plays a part in the production. San Diego choreographer Jason Sumabat, best known locally for his work with the Central Coast Follies, is working with the cast to incorporate movement into their performances.

"He creates dances that are fun and full of storytelling, full of surprises," said Totten, a theater professor at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla. "Everything is done to illuminate the experience and make it accessible to the audience."

IF YOU GO

Central Coast Shakespeare Festival

"The Taming of the Shrew" 7:30 p.m.July 10, 11, 12, 24, 25 and 26; 6 p.m.July 20

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" 7:30 p.m.July 17, 18, 19 and 31 and Aug. 1 and 2; 6 p.m.July 27

Filipponi Ranch, 1850 Calle Joaquin Road, San Luis Obispo

$20, $18 students and seniors

546-4224 or www.centralcoastshakespeare.org

Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907. Stay updated by following @shelikestowatch on Twitter.

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(c)2014 The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.)

Visit The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.) at www.sanluisobispo.com

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