Ask Philippa: 2015 Pre-season Edition

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo by Richard Friedman.

The 2014 Season has just barely ended, and already we’re preparing for 2015. We have an incredible array of artists and plays lined up for the 2015 Season, and I can’t wait to see how the year is going to unfold.

While Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone has written a letter about the 2015 Season, here’s a brief overview of the Main Stage season:

Twelfth Night
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Christopher Liam Moore
May 27–June 21

Director Christopher Liam Moore (Cal Shakes’ Lady Windermere’s Fan) is renowned for being able to delve into comedy, romance, and language with humanity and élan. Now he’s opening our season with Shakespeare’s comic masterpiece of mistaken identity, in which shipwrecked twins navigate across a strange island to find love—and each other.

Life Is a Dream
By Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Translated and Adapted by Nilo Cruz
Directed by Loretta Greco
July 8–August 2

This stunning Spanish Golden Age classic that’s been called “the Spanish Hamlet” tells the tale of a prince imprisoned by his father at birth because of a prophecy. Magic Theatre’s Loretta Greco directs a brilliant translation and adaptation by the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Nilo Cruz, who brings urgency and accessibility to Calderon’s mythic, poetic play, where reality and dreams collide in a story of human will battling fate.

 The Mystery of Irma Vep
By Charles Ludlam
Directed by Jonathan Moscone
August 12–September 6

Lady Enid is haunted by the spirit of her husband’s ex-wife, Irma Vep—but that’s just the beginning of her problems. Mummies, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and other surprise guests pursue the numerous characters played frenetically by only two actors, including the fabulous Danny Scheie in a gender-bending tour-de-force performance. Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone (Pygmalion, American Night) takes on Charles Ludlam’s outrageously ingenious comedy.

King Lear
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Amanda Dehnert
September 16–October 11

Affairs of state, family, and soul entwine in this masterful, epic tale of a king who loses everything— including his sanity—only to experience the power of revenge, betrayal, and ultimately, redemption. Nationally renowned director Amanda Dehnert—whose credits include the groundbreaking 2011 production of Julius Caesar at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival—directs two-time Tony award nominee Anthony Heald as Shakespeare’s profound tragic hero.

As 2015 draws near, I’m happy to answer any artistic or dramaturgy questions about what’s in store for next year. Curious about cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

—-

Dr. Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for the California Shakespeare Theater, is also a professor and author. Her 2010 book, The King and I, a meditation on Australian culture through the lens of King Lear, garnered international praise in its very personal examination of themes of abandonment, loss, and humor).

You can email Philippa at pkelly@calshakes.org, or post below to ask her a question.

Subscribe to the 2015 Season by clicking here, or call 510.548.9666.

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A Night of Fairy Dust and Dancing Queens at the Bruns

This season at the Bruns concluded with a night of dancing, drag queens, fairy wings, and glitter! Friday, September 26th, Cal Shakes hosted a “Find Your Inner Fairy Dance Party” complete with pop-up dancers, gorgeous drag queens, and a costume dance party. Patrons, guest performers, and staff took over the forest grounds in what became a magical night to envelop our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The evening began with dance performances throughout the Bruns grounds. Pop-up dances were choreographed by Dream actor Travis Santell Rowland, with performances by Brianna Anthony, Eric Garcia, Melanie Elms, Parker Murphy, Strobe FEARude Growles, and Travis Santell Rowland (Qween).

 

 

Performance art by Diana Sauce in the plaza.

Some Cal Shakes Patrons even came dressed for the party!

Post show performances by some of the Bay Area’s finest Drag Queens, Kings, and a blessing by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence!

To round out the evening, the plaza was transformed into a magical fairyland complete with glistening lights, costume corner, wings, and magical umbrellas.

Patrons, guest performers, and staff fashioned glitter and wings, while everyone danced the night away to a Fairy Dance Party mix provided by Cal Shakes dancers/choreographers Travis Santell Rowland and Parker Murphy.

Thank you for helping make this a night to remember.

If you’d like to see more photos please take a peek at our Flickr stream. (All photos were taken by Sophie Spinelle.)

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the night. Please email rnovick@calshakes.org with any and all feedback.

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The Understudy Diaries

If you attended a Cal Shakes show this past weekend, you may have seen my face—on our stage. I’m the understudy for Movement Director and actress Erika Chong Shuch, a powerhouse of a woman, and I wound up being called on to play Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Many people have asked me what this experience was like, and so I thought I would chronicle it into phases.

Phase I: Excitement

After interning all summer at Cal Shakes, I auditioned and was accepted to understudy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was all knock-knees and general excitement, highlighting away in my binder during the first rehearsal and gasping at all the set and costume designs. Understudying allows you to absorb so much information and as a young actress it’s pretty ideal. I get to try on a part without as much of the risk, and see the professionals do their work.

Phase 2: Technical Rehearsal

This was the most fun part of being an understudy for me, where I learned all my lines and wrote down all my blocking. Essentially the expectation is to know everything by Opening Night, and then to have your understudy rehearsal the following Tuesday. Simple enough. I had just finished my internship and so was content to hang around the Bruns all during tech, cracking jokes with cast and crew and being on book when needed. I was so impressed with all the actors, working twelve hour days and being incredibly patient and generous with each other.

Regina Fields and Danny Scheie (Puck) backstage before the show. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Phase 3: Understudy Rehearsal

Finally our time had come! My fellow understudies were chomping at the bit to do their scenes. They were really prepared and ready to finally DO something with all the knowledge they’d been collecting. On the way to rehearsal we all got an email that would change the whole course of our day. Brian, the understudy for James Carpenter (Egeus/Starveling) was going to go on! It was getting real. We spent most of the day doing Brian’s scenes, which meant I only got to walk through one Titania scene once.

Catherine Castellanos (Snout) and I kept joking about how it would be crazy if I had to go on after not getting to do any of my scenes. Good thing that was entirely unlikely. Little did I know…

Phase 4: The Call

Friday morning the unthinkable happened. I received a text message from Karen Szpaller, our stage manager/resident superwoman, saying I should be prepared to go on, and she would let me know as soon as she could. At which point I immediately began to do three things:

1) hyperventilate

2) read my script 500 times

3) cry (just a little).

In order to understand why I would react in such a fashion it’s important to note that I’m a senior in college, who has a few credits mostly accrued while at conservatory in Europe. Cal Shakes is a theater I respect and whose company of staff, crew, and actors I am constantly in awe of. Basically I felt like I was hitting fast forward on getting to do my ultimate dream job.

Karen confirmed that Operation Understudy was a go (she doesn’t call it that, I do, and I’m not sorry about it) and I hit the road around 3pm, reciting Shakespeare all the way.

Regina Fields' understudy debut in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Phase 5: The Trial By Fire

I got to the theater with enough time to warm up, walk the space, and get fitted into a costume before my two hour put-in rehearsal began. A put-in is essentially what it sounds like—putting me into the show. However, anyone who has seen this show with Erika knows: you can’t imitate greatness. So we (and by we I mean Craig, and the fairies; Travis, Parker and Mel), re-choreographed a whole lot, from the top of show fight, to my entrance out of the trap (under the stage) and more.

Everyone was incredibly supportive, including Jonathan Moscone who came to help direct me through some moments and get acquainted with the show. The fairies (Travis Parker and Mel) helped me focus on my job, which was to make everyone else not freak out by appearing calm, knowing my part and just doing the damn thing.

After asserting my warrior dominance as Hippolyta in the first scene, I had a second to look out and had only one thought: “oh my lanta, people”. I don’t even remember saying my first line. What I do remember is the outpouring of love from everyone around me. I felt like I was on an Olympic Rowing Team and we were all going for the gold in one final burst before the finish line: either we all won or we all didn’t make it, and failure was not an option. Coming through the green room door after that first show was the most electrifying feeling in the world. We had done it! We had pulled off this behemoth, beautiful, inspiring show and I quite frankly couldn’t believe I’d gotten to be a part of it.

Phase 6: The Aftermath

I cannot stress enough how much Cal Shakes’ culture of support, love of art, and community helped me to get through this moment. Without all of the words of encouragement from my fellow actors, and the amazing Cal Shakes audience, I never would have found the courage to step out on that stage. Now that Erika is back and more graceful than ever, it feels like even more of a family because we all helped each other through a tough spot. I have nothing but eternal gratuity and respect for everyone involved for helping a young actress to realize her dreams for just a few shows. The best way to articulate how I feel is with a quote from the play:

“Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream.”

Regina Fields and Daisuke Tsuji (Oberon, Theseus) in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Jay Yamada.

* * *

About the author: Regina V. Fields is an Artistic Intern and local actress.

 

 

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Ask Philippa: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Edition

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes, invites your questions about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which runs September 3–28. Tickets on sale now.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream begins where most comedies end: with the announcement of a wedding. As the curtain rises, Duke Theseus calls for general rejoicing at the news of his impending wedding to the Amazon Hippolyta.  “Stir up the Athenian youth to merriment,” he tells Philostrate, expecting the young folk to readily oblige. But they will not, or they cannot, so hopelessly enmeshed are they in the tangles of their hearts. By the play’s conclusion, however, all will find fulfillment (or at the very least, acceptance), bowing to the wonder of this wedding day. Marriage in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is more than a note of triumph: it marks the end of a struggle and the beginning of a journey. And all of us who witnesses this play—beautiful, hilarious, even dangerous—bring to it our own flawed hearts. In the confusions of the young lovers, the competitive ambiguities of mature love, and the hilarious malapropisms of the “rude mechanicals: we might see our hopes, dreams, passions, and our laughably regrettable mistakes.

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo by Richard Friedman.

Are you going to see our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?  Do you have questions or comments about the production’s cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

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Unconventional Artistry: Fridays in the Grove

By Regina Fields

If you’ve picnicked at the Bruns this season on a Friday evening (as so many of our patrons do), you might have noticed the new Fridays in the Grove show starting at 6:45pm. Inaugurated by Cal Shakes’ community engagement wing, the Triangle Lab, this is a new performance series that takes place before Grove Talks and is designed to showcase new and exciting artists our patrons may not have heard before. Cal Shakes is known for its unconventional spins on the classics, and our audience likes being exposed to the unexpected. Fridays in the Grove does just that—bringing a wide variety of acts ranging from youth poetry, to improv comedy, to eclectic musical acts.

Pictured: Eggplant Casino. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Genre-bending band Eggplant Casino played Fridays in the Grove on July 4th. Eggplant Casino self-defines their genre as “Afro-Latin-Disco-Cabaret,” and they have a wide variety of instruments onstage such as saxophone, viola, and more.

Sketch comedy troupe Killing My Lobster. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Killing My Lobster is San Francisco’s premiere sketch comedy troupe for 17 years. They brought their outrageous comedy set to the Bruns on July 18th, at the Comedy of Errors pre-show.

Destiny Muhammad playing harp in the Grove. Photo by Jay Yamada.

The Destiny Muhammad Jazz Trio haunted the grove with their delicate  melodies in a Pygmalion pre-show on August 18th. Jazz harpist Destiny Muhammad and her trio filled the hills with delicate and intricate music that had patrons in the next grove clapping in appreciation.

The Living Earth Show. Photo by Jay Yamada.

The Living Earth show performed on July 11th, and was the product of a partnership between Cal Shakes and the Center For New Music. They brought a unique electro-chamber music sound that featured percussion and electric guitar.

Join us up at the Bruns Amphitheater during the run of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to see our next four Friday in the Grove performances:

September 5th – Antique Naked Soul: Soulful all-vocal beat boxing and a cappella band.

September 12th – Out Side Show: A curated sampling of performers from the streets, stages, and clubs of the Bay Area drag scene.

September 19th – Center for New Music presents Pet The Tiger: An improvised acoustic collective for invented instruments.

September 26th – Killing My Lobster: San Francisco’s premier sketch comedy troupe.

About the Author: Regina V. Fields is an Artistic Intern and local actress 

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Pygmalion Grove Talk

Listen to Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly’s pre-show Grove Talk on Pygmalion.

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Waking the Dream

By Aliya Charney

This past Wednesday marked the beginning of the end of Cal Shakes’ historic 40th anniversary season. This summer alone, our audience has travelled back in time and around the world onstage: from segregated Southside Chicago, to the circus-inspired ancient port city of Ephesus, and now to Edwardian London. In this season alone, the Bruns has reached new heights and hosted a series of transportive and transformative theater. And we’re not quite finished yet.

Enter renowned director (and former Assistant Artistic Director) Shana Cooper, directing the final installment of our regular season, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Cooper’s journey with Dream began when she was nine years old and living in Ashland, Oregon. As she sat in on a technical rehearsal for their production, Cooper witnessed what she describes as “a magical moment.” The nine-year-old Cooper watched in awe as a mischievous Puck gracefully climbed atop a tall Elizabethan pillar—and forgot his line. In one swift moment, Puck was transformed form a Fairy to an actor, and when the line was recalled and a colorful comment made, Puck was back again. It is this spirit of transformation, of the subtle differences between what our eyes perceive and what may be lurking just below the surface of reality, that contributed to Cooper’s desire to direct Dream.

A photo of the costume design sketches for Puck, by Katherine O'Neill.

Dream has remained one of Cooper’s favorite plays throughout the years because it serves as a gateway to an unseen world, a glimpse into the characters’–and even the audience’s–subconscious minds. According to Cooper, in Dream, the untamed landscape of the woods, where the lovers flee to and the Fairies live, “is filled with mystery and danger” due to its potential to disturb the status quo. The Athenians live on the outskirts of this liberated wood, and in Dream, we enter into a world that is wild, violent, and dangerous: the world of our subconscious desires–the world of our dreams. As Cooper so rightly states: “within fantasy lurks madness.”

During last Wednesday’s Meet & Greet with the show’s cast and creative team, we learned that Dream will take place in “a world in which the perspective shifts with the dreamer.” This lends itself naturally to the theme of transformation, hopping from one “reality” to the next, as if trapped in someone else’s fantasy. Scenic designer Nina Ball (The Comedy of Errors) joins Cal Shakes once again this season with Dream’s duel set: the oppressive, civilized Athenian landscape, slowly peeled away to reveal a “poetic representation of a forest,” complete with an exploding arch of twigs, sustained–mid-air–by a seeming lack of gravity. By the end of the play, the arch bursts to life, sprouting blossoms that carry over to, and transform, the once-stale Athenian aesthetic.

Dream photo shoot

Erika Chong Shuch, Daisuke Tsuji, and Danny Scheie in the Midsummer Night's Dream photo shoot. Photo by Esther Ho.

Also joining Dream for her second Cal Shakes production this season is Movement Director Erika Chong Shuch (Hippolyta, Tatiana). As Cooper reasons, “this play demands a need for movement and dance to transport us from one world to the next [in order] to tell the story.” In Dream, movement will serve as a vessel to infuse the production with magic. And it is safe to say that Cooper’s vision of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be magical indeed.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream opens September 6th. Buy your tickets online or by calling 510.548.9666.

Aliya Charney is a dramaturgy intern and Cal Shakes Patron Services Associate. You might have heard her answering Cal Shakes’ phones, giving Grove Talks before our Shakespeare shows, or in her occasional stints welcoming patrons at the new Welcome Center.

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RAW Talent – Young Artists Takeover the Bruns

Last week, Richmond Artists With Talent (RAW Talent)—in partnership with Cal Shakes’ Triangle Lab—performed The Adventure Of Grief: A Short Play on the Bruns Amphitheater stage. Six years ago, Richmond Artists with Talent was founded by a small group of teachers and students, in order to provide safe spaces and creative outlets for youth in Richmond, California.

The Adventure of Grief was written by the members of RAW Talent, ages 13-24, and directed by Triangle Lab Artist-Investigator Arielle Julia Brown. Much of Arielle’s work focuses on theater as witness and testimony, including the piece Love Balm For My Spirit Child which ran at Brava Theater and shared testimony from mothers who lost their children to violence.

This project was a further development of Phoenix Rysing, a workshop series co-sponsored by Cal Shakes in which the students used writing and performance to create pieces that explore how we experience and heal from grief. Phoenix Rysing was prompted by the loss of Dimarea Young–one of the founding members of RAW Talent to whom The Adventure of Grief was dedicated–to gun violence in 2013. The students participated in a week-long residency up at the Bruns Amphitheater along with RAW Talent staff Molly Raynor and Donte Clark, developing this piece. They performed it on stage before Pygmalion on August 8th.

The Adventure of Grief performance was truly inspiring, with about 70 invited audience members in attendance, half of whom had come from Richmond to see the show. The opening act “The House of Grief” was an ensemble piece about moving into grief when you have nowhere else to go, and no one to turn to. The format of the show allowed the audience to relate to the subject matter that the students were addressing. There were six scenes, some performed in small  groups, and in one case even a dance duet, creating multiple windows and perspectives into this House of Grief.

The most daring moment of the show arrived when the actors asked the audience to write down down their own stories and then to volunteer to come onstage and read them. In the community piece entitled “Write Myself Whole,” the students sang as attendees wrote two and three line poems about a grief or struggle that had made them who they were today. Here are some of the poems that were written by individuals in the audience:

“I come here by way of family struggles
Art healed me
The loss of my dad, young when he killed himself.”

“I come here by way of Nana Kika & Kim Pate + Raymen Justice. I come here by way of sadness, emptiness, rage & love. I sit in my sadness to reach for my gratitude & humility.”

“I come here by way of Salvador Joseph
I come here by way of separation and loss of love from loved ones.”

By the end of the play, much of the audience was moved to tears from the shared experience of acknowledging grief and sharing in the stories of these young people. Yet the most important takeaway was that we must all learn to move out of the House of Grief, by writing ourselves whole and empathizing with the experiences of others.

Triangle Lab was honored to work with such an inspiring and talented group and to help bring their stories to the Bruns. Richmond Artists with Talent has been a program for six years and has reached over  500 students in the Richmond Area, and will continue growing with support from the RYSE Center. For more information about RAW Talent visit their Facebook Page.

About the Author: Regina Fields is an Artistic Intern and local actress.

Photos by Jay Yamada.

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Feast on the Dinner Project: Part 2

The Dinner Project lives on this summer at the Bruns in our new Story Hub space. We’re inviting audience members to share their life stories and experiences in exciting new ways that relate to the themes of the show they’re seeing. We encourage you to stop by this season like so many of our other audience members have. Participate in our interactive exhibits, talk to our friendly staff, peruse the audience stories on display, or share your own!

At our last show, Raisin In The Sun, patrons responded to the question “What does your family talk about at the dinner table?” You can read about what happened here.

During the run of Comedy of Errors we asked the audience a slightly more scandalous question: “Share a secret or surprise that someone revealed to you over dinner.” Our answers this time around were even juicier, check out some of them below!

“When I was a boy we were eating dinner & I said this chicken tastes funny. My dad replied ‘that’s because it’s your duck.’ I had a pet duck named Quackers and my father was not a sentimental man.”

“Grandad Rick is secretly a top No 1. Spy.”

“Dear people I very like the place I even like this show. I will come next time [heart] show. Yours Truly, 7 years old Callie Chu”

“I came out to my parents at Passover Seder. This night was a bit different than all other nights…” 

“Today is my birthday but I decided for the next year not to be any age so I can let go of the stigma of being old. That and I’m secretly in love with Jonathan Moscone <3 he he”

Though the theme of the Dinner Project will be consistent throughout the season, the question and way of sharing your stories will change. Stop by the Story Hub and contribute to our newest prompt for Pygmalion: “What’s taboo at your dinner table?” Maybe your story will be featured on our blog!

About the author: Regina V. Fields is an Artistic Intern and local actress.

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Actor Spotlight: Interview with James Carpenter

Interview: James Carpenter on Transitioning from Mamet to Shaw and his Twenty-Six Year Career at Cal Shakes

By Aliya Charney

James Carpenter, who plays Alfred Doolittle in PYGMALION.

In 1988, James Carpenter made his debut on the Cal Shakes stage (then called “Berkeley Shakespeare Festival,” its performance space then John Hinkel Park in Berkeley) as Prince Hal in Henry IV Part 1. Pygmalion (directed by Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone) marks his 30th production for Cal Shakes. Pygmalion is not Carpenter’s first time working with our Artistic Director. Moscone was a directing intern at Berkeley Rep in the early 90’s when Carpenter was a core company member. “Even then I knew he was going places,” said Carpenter of Moscone.

Aside from the location and name, how has Cal Shakes grown over the past 26 years? According to Carpenter, now a Cal Shakes Associate Artist, Cal Shakes “has become a national force. You can see the growth with every season because we are constantly reinventing ourselves here. It’s no longer just Shakespeare but American theater and world theater. For a season ticket holder this gives a well-rounded, theatrical experience.”

Hot on the heels from performing in David Mamet’s American Buffalo at Aurora Theatre in Berkeley, Carpenter joins the cast of Pygmalion as Alfred Doolittle, the outspoken yet well-intentioned father of Eliza Doolittle. Perhaps no greater contrast exists in the theater than between Mamet and Shaw. (Carpenter describes American Buffalo as a “high voltage piece of danger.”) To smooth out his exceptionally quick transition from Mamet’s contemporary America to Shaw’s Edwardian London, Carpenter revealed that he would recite his monologues from American Buffaloin a Cockney accent. This allowed him to seamlessly transition from one piece to the next while simultaneously discovering the differences between his two wildly contrasting characters.

James Carpenter as Teach in AMERICAN BUFFALO at Aurora. Photo by David Allen.

Discovering Alfred Doolittle is an ongoing process for Carpenter. In the beginning of the rehearsal process, he sat down with the text, piecing together Alfred’s world view and “wrapping [his] head around it.” Then, Carpenter applied this worldview to his scenes to give them a rough shape. “[Alfred] just wants to get by for the moment…[he’s] never planning too far ahead for the future,” he said.

Carpenter sees Alfred Doolittle as “the everyman’s voice” whom Shaw writes as a “counterpoint to Eliza’s story.” Just like Eliza, Professor Higgins creates a new Alfred Doolittle by the end of Act V, although Carpenter sees his character’s transformation as not a “conscious creation” like Eliza’s, but rather, an unintentional outcome of Higgins’ careless regard towards others. Doolittle is obsessed with happiness, and happiness, for him, emerges from having no responsibilities. Doolittle’s transformation forces him to take on unwelcome dependability and charity; the burden of the middle class, as Doolittle sees it, is living for others, not yourself.

Carpenter as Alfred Doolittle in PYGMALION. Photo by Jay Yamada.

On the rocky, estranged relationship between Alfred and his daughter, Eliza, Carpenter holds a bold theory: “I suspect Eliza is his favorite child,” Carpenter states, because “he has a delicacy in regards to telling her that he never married her mother. He doesn’t want to ruin her reputation or her life [being born out of wedlock]. [This] means that he cares for her…but she’s got his mouth and [he] could never make her shut up.” That’s where the true anger and resentment stems from: their similarities. Their complex relationship comes to a head in Act V, when Eliza begs her father to rescue her from Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering. Instead of rescuing his daughter, Doolittle leaves her to fend for herself between the two men. Carpenter grapples with Doolittle’s decision. “Is he abandoning Eliza or granting her independence?” Carpenter questions. “This is an example of one of those moments, as an actor, when you really have to pay very close attention to detail and think analytically. The answer may not come until opening night.”

See James Carpenter on stage for Pygmalion, which runs from July 30–August 24 at the Bruns Amphitheater. Buy tickets online or call the Box Office at 510.548.9666.

 

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