Thursday, July 30, 2009

Reel Thoughts: Summer Globe-Trotting

Oh, the places you’ll go this summer at the famous Old Globe Theatre in San Diego! I’ll be reviewing their world premiere musical, The First Wives Club, soon. But that is by no means the only fabulous destination you’ll visit if you plan your trip right!

Your first stop should be the misty, god-forsaken moors of Victorian England, where a madcap, cross-dressing “penny dreadful” is unfolding. What is The Mystery of Irma Vep, and why are its two actors so out-of-breath? If you’ve never seen Charles Ludlam’s wildly hilarious, yet brilliantly designed comedy take-off on old Universal horror films, Hitchcock’s Rebecca, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights (as portrayed entirely by two men), you really haven’t lived a full life. Lady Enid is the new mistress of the manor, but is always in the shadow of her husband’s first wife, as her not-so-faithful maid keeps reminding her. Faithful servant Nicodemus tries to protect the new lady, but he has that little werewolf problem that keeps cropping up. Broadway's The 39 Steps owes a great debt to the late Mr. Ludlam, because the wit and genius of a quick-change show was perfected by him and his Theatre of the Ridiculous.

Next, you might want to plan a ski trip down the enormous nose of Cyrano de Bergerac, part of the Globe's 2009 Shakespeare Festival. There are raves so loud for Patrick Page’s performance in the lead, you can probably hear them here. Page cast a dark spell over Arizona audiences with his charismatic Dracula at Arizona Theatre Company years ago, and has since become one of the most respected lead actors on and off Broadway. Plus, he gets to go home to Paige Davis (Trading Spaces) every night (as much as time permits, I’m sure). Cyrano has been retold many times, including in Steve Martin’s Roxanne and sitcoms too numerous to mention, but the original is still the best. How does a man with, shall we say, inner beauty compete for the heart of the woman he loves with younger, more handsome, but infinitely duller men? Finding out the answer is definitely worth the trip to San Diego.

But what is a Shakespeare festival without Shakespeare? Coriolanus, the Bard’s final tragedy, is also considered one of his greatest. This powerful political drama tells the story of the great Roman general whose arrogance leads to his own downfall. The Old Globe calls it one of Shakespeare’s most provocative plays, and bills Coriolanus as a mesmerizing tale that unfolds as both personal tragedy and political thriller. From exalted war hero, to heavy-handed politician, to finally, exile, Coriolanus is manipulated by his power hungry mother Volumnia and his unwillingness to compromise his principles as his world spirals out of control in his crusade for vengeance.

On the lighter side, laugh and swoon as the Old Globe production of Twelfth Night shipwrecks you in delicious Illyria, a land full of romance, mistaken identities and a little cross-dressing and gender confusion thrown in for good measure. Shipwrecked beauty Viola (think Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love) disguises herself as a man to go in search of her missing twin brother Sebastian. She inspires the love of a woman who is in turn being wooed by Duke Orsino, the very man Viola falls in love with. No wonder the show has been loved and imitated for centuries!

All of this theatrical magic happens in the equally magical Balboa Park, and you won’t want to miss a minute of it! For dates and more information for all of the Old Globe's summer productions, visit their official website.

By Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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