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Theatre Review (San Diego): Old Globe Summer Shakespeare Festival Presents Shakespeare and Amadeus

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Adrian Noble, past head of the Royal Shakespeare Company, returns as the Artistic Director of the 2011 Summer Shakespeare Festival held in the newly cushioned Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. Noble directs Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus and Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Ron Daniels returns and directs Much Ado About Nothing.

Daniels’ Much Ado About Nothing is certainly a serviceable production with at least one very good performance, by Jonno Roberts as Benedick. I must admit that Much Ado About Nothing is not my favorite Shakespeare mainly because bickering couples tend to bore me. I look for something different to set each production apart. Last year’s production at the Utah Shakespeare Festival featured one of its new Artistic Directors, David Ivers, as Benedick. He took the interesting tack of playing a Benedick tired of all the bickering and looking for something more. A Noise Within in Glendale starred the comic actor J. D. Cullum as a rather clownish suitor. Jonno Roberts seems to combine the romantic hero and soldier with the clown and thus gave a very satisfying performance. Otherwise this Much Ado was rather pedestrian, taking place in no specified place or time frame. I did enjoy Charles Janasz in his dual roles as Verges and Antonio because each of these characters was fully defined.

The Tempest is easily one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, partly because I have been in three separate productions at the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park (Garland Wright director), and the recent staged reading at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura. What I most admired about Noble’s production is that he didn’t shy away from the magical elements in this play. Prospero, here played by Miles Anderson, is, after all, a magician. I had some problems with certain characterizations, especially a rather lackluster Ben Diskant as Ariel. He mainly settled for dance moves to show his character and there is a lot more to Ariel than that. I liked Charles Janasz as Gonzalo, and the delightful Miranda of Winslow Corbett. Jonno Roberts again did a splendid job with Caliban. Some of the effects that Noble used included great costumes by Deidre Clancy, some very evocative music by Shaun Davey, and some great lighting by Alan Burnett. His use of Banraku puppets for the three goddesses was less effective, too small for the stage, but a nice attempt at including yet another exotic element in the play. Miles Anderson lacked stature as Prospero but he is such a good actor one could overlook that.

Amadeus was probably the most successful of the summer fare. Miles Anderson was Salieri; though again he lacked stature, the lines in the play do state that Salieri comes from humble origins. Jay Whittaker played the petulant and childish Mozart but really made you care about his fate. Winslow Corbett played Mozart’s wife Constance. She was the best I have ever seen, including the recent Broadway revival with Michael Sheen and David Suchet, which I was honored to be in. Noble used the reworked script used in that revival and it worked better than it did on Broadway despite the Broadway production’s star power. I wish there had been more differentiation among the other characters as I think they tended to be alike. In other productions, that is accomplished by casting very divergent body types. One interesting change that Noble made was to cast two very accomplished actresses as the Venticelli. Though these roles are traditionally played by men, the change in gender did nothing to detract from the story and gave them an extra punch.

The Old Globe Summer Shakespeare Festival has been made better by the hiring of Adrian Noble who brings a British sensibility to a largely American cast. The three plays will be performed in rep until September 22 at The Old Globe in San Diego..

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