Shakespeare at Wente to feature ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’
‘Cyrano de Bergerac’
By Lou Fancher
When human leaders pervert the right to rule, Earth suffers, animals and people go mad, decorum disappears, trickery invades relationships and bad things happen.
If Shakespeare knew and wrote about this consortium of trouble 400 years ago in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a comic but cautionary tale of kings, queens and other characters who lose sight of honor, why do we still grapple with the same issues?
“We didn’t get the memo,” says Livermore Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Lisa Tromovitch. “That’s what I was told by a young actor in our apprentice program. She said we have to be with each other — in the flesh — more, not less. We have to do something other than tweet and post on Facebook. That’s why sharing these older stories is important.”
Gary Armagnac directs “Midsummer” June 30-July 16 ; Tromovitch takes on Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” July 14-30.
Which means the 2017 season is perfect opportunity to come together for feuds improbably made fun. Under the moon at night, a glass of Wente Vineyard wine or picnic food in hand, this year’s pairing of Midsummer and Cyrano promises revelatory, relevant, but not preachy repertoire. The two plays deliver their potent messages of human heartache and heartlessness balanced by humor.
They have in common love foibles, stratified societies and symbolic lunar imagery representing honor, dreams, truth or our fragile psyches. Although not selected by Tromovitch as a response to contemporary politics, audiences are likely to recognize parallel themes: tyrannical leaders worldwide whose ignorance about science and arguments about the impact of imbalances — environmental, religious, economic and more — harm the planet and divide communities.
As if by magic — but actually, through great writing — the classic theater pieces provoke serious self-examination while providing delightful entertainment. The playwrights clearly knew that bitter truth is easiest to swallow when it comes with a bit of sugar and cream.
“They’re both funny,” says Tromovitch, “yet there’s a message about values and the consequences of not living up to them. For Cyrano, I’m doing an adaptation, not using an existing script. I took an early translation of the original French script, but it’s told from Roxanne’s point of view.”
The 1897 play’s well-known plot involves soldier/poet Cyrano — with self-esteem-destroying nose — who loves Roxanne who loves doltish but handsome Christian. In the Livermore Shakes production, Roxanne narrates large scenes, which allows audiences time to reflect and trims the budget as well.
“We don’t have to have 14 characters for a chorus,” said Tromovitch. “The costume costs savings alone could make enough costumes for five plays.”
The move also positions Roxanne as a strong, brave and intelligent hero. Tromovitch says modern versions that have the character perform frivolous actions — bringing a love letter to starving soldiers instead of food — don’t reflect the original script and demonstrate unrecognized gender bias.
“The powerful woman Rostand wrote — I’m restoring her. It’s kind of crazy that we don’t recognize it, but when you take a female character and make her shallow, you take away female intelligence and practicality.”
Likewise, flight coordinator Sydney Schwindt demonstrates for young actors involved in the production that no positions are off limits to women. “It’s great for male female actors to see a female leader in fight choreography,” said Tromovitch. The theater-in-the-round setting has Schwindt creating mortal combat battles on a challenging structure: one small central stage and three side stages. Tromovitch says the swordplay is sculptural, visceral.
Arguably, the most significant drama at Livermore Shakes is not onstage. With a booming, 10-day, second grade education program in Tri-Valley public schools, a generation of pre-professional and professional young actors and crew members hankering for opportunity, and over half the audience attending from outside the Tri-Valley, the company needs a home.
“When the economy got better, landowners and office building owners booted out arts organizations,” said Tromovitch. “We’ve been kicked out of three spaces in the last 18 months and we’re month-to-month in our fourth space. It’s no longer romantic or adorable to be a gypsy, now that we’re 15 years old.”
But like the playwrights featured this year, she finds a bright side: Livermore owns a central block in the downtown core. “We need a little hotel and a small building with a long-term lease; somewhere to plant ourselves. Maybe they are one and the same? We have potential that’s vibratory.”
When she’s not gazing at the moon, you can bet Tromovitch has her eyes on that downtown street because theater, she insists, will never go away. “The kids in our programs understand what adults forget. Storytelling is an essential way to test theories of cause and effect, to communicate our values. In theater, we come together as a group to retain our histories, our stories.”