Livermore Shakespeare Festival will open its 11th season at Concannon Vineyard in Livermore, Calif., this month with a 1940's America-set Taming of the Shrew and the comedy The Liar, which continues its duplicitous romp through regional theaters.
The Taming of the Shrew Director Gary Armagnac, who calls the play “a wonderful romantic comedy,” sees it as an ancestor to the great screwball comedies of the 1930s and '40s, with handsome heroes and headstrong heroines who were a match for each other.
“One of the first things that hit me on rereading the play was that all the men and women want to get married,” said Armagnac, quoted in a festival press release. “It reminded me of when the men came home from World War II.” Moving the setting from 16th century Padua to America in the late 1940s seemed like a natural for his production, says Armagnac, a veteran professional actor and director. The play will open on a big welcome home party for the returning GIs, some still in uniform. When Katarina, played by Jennifer LeBlanc, enters, she’ll be carrying a bushel of grapes, singing “The Man I Love,” the wistful old Ella Fitzgerald favorite.
Perhaps she’ll be channeling the spirit of Katherine Vajda, California’s first female winemaker, who created Concannon wines from 1950 to 1960. “She was a very strong woman in breaking through the glass ceiling,” says Armagnac, delighted to make the connection between the two gutsy Katherines. Older residents will remember Vajda as a woman of many talents. She was a ballet dancer in Austria before she emigrated to America and, in addition to her winemaking career, she was an interior designer for many young Livermore families.
Some traditionalists will miss the pumpkin pants and neck ruffs of Elizabethan-style Shakespeare productions, but Armagnac promises “spectacular” costumes of the Late Forties era. This period also helps to keep the characters more identifiable, wearing clothes of their trades and stations in life. It also helps mark the passage of time, as the returning GIs shed their uniforms for sports shirts and slacks.
Joining LeBlanc as Katarina is Armando McClain as her money-hungry suitor, Petruchio. The two were cast together in LSF’s 2011 production of Macbeth, with McClain in the title role and LeBlanc as his ambitious wife. LeBlanc also had roles in LSF’s The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard, and Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor.
The Taming of the Shrew begins its three-week run June 27.
The Livermore Shakespeare Festival opens on June 20 with The Liar by David Ives, adapted from the comedy by Pierre Corneille. The recently retranslated and adapted comedy continues the company’s tradition of offering one non-Shakespeare piece in repertory with a Shakespeare play.
Since its original production at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., in 2010 (reviewed on Shakespeareances.com), The Liar has been making the rounds at many regional theaters and festivals since.
Lisa A. Tromovitch will direct The Liar. Its leading man, Dorante, will be played by American Conservatory Theatre MFA candidate Rafael Jordan. Livermore Shakes has featured a student from the prestigious conservatory for the past three seasons. “Livermore Shakespeare provides ACT’s MFA actors with a wonderful opportunity to do classical work alongside professional actors during summer months, thereby initiating them into the professional world and extending the classical training experience at the same time," ACT Conservatory Director and Head of Acting Melissa Smith said in a press release. "It’s a relationship ACT values.”
Livermore Shakespeare Festival 2013 tickets are on sale now at www.LivermoreShakes or at 1-800-838-3006.
June 10, 2013