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 you all tumbling out of the grove next season with your digestibles and into our beautiful amphitheater.

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 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

At the beginning of Shakespeare’s King Lear, an old king asks his daughters to deliver love in return for slices of land. A cataclysmic scene ensues, at the end of which Lear (via hubris? Naivity? The foolishness of age?) is thrust out into the world with almost nothing that’s ever had value to him—without his land, without his familiar duties and prerogatives, and, most importantly, without his most precious daughter. He goes on an epic journey to finally (and fleetingly) experience the redemption of love, and, indeed, the redemption of a self.  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’d be delighted to answer any artistic or dramaturgy questions about what’s in store for next year. Curious about cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Ask Philippa! 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, or post below to ask her a question.

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


3 thoughts on “Ask Philippa: 2015 Pre-season Edition

  1. I’m curious about the production of Life is a Dream. I understand it was a very important play to Spanish culture, and the playwright was (kind of) the “Shakespeare” of Spain. But I was wondering, were Shakespeare and de la Barca contemporaries? Were they aware of each other’s work? Indeed, that may go to a general question of cultural export–was Shakespeare known outside of England at all, or did it take a while for him to become a figure in other countries? Ditto de la Barca.

    • Great question, Michael – thank you for asking it. Calderón was born 36 years after Shakespeare. He wrote 70 plays during his 81-year lifespan, while Shakespeare wrote 36 (or 37?) plays during his 52-year lifespan.

      Here’s just a bit of info to contextualize the two writers before I go into your question of whether Calderón knew of Shakespeare. Both writers were poster-boys for the 18th-century German Romantics, who celebrated them for their philosophical meditations on human life and nature and the blurring of truth and fiction in human life (a prelude to existentalism). Both contemplated the contradictions within human consciousness concerning free will, human choices, tragic fate, and the struggles of the individual against the implacable forces of the universe; and both used soliloquies to dramatize various philosophical positions. Whereas Shakespeare did this with a practical focus, Calderón used a more metaphysical framework to address fundamental questions about human nature and the world.

      Some critics contend that while Shakespeare and Calderón drew on the same sources for various plays, Calderón knew nothing of Shakespeare. Others believe that Calderón did know his works, partly because of his connection to the various cultured people who were banished from the English court for one reason or another and ended up as refugees in Spain; and partly because of the English Embassy in Madrid (for example, Calderón’s friend, Lope de Vega, frequented the English Embassy). The echoes of Romeo and Juliet, Henry VIII, The Tempest and Hamlet in Calderón’s works could suggest that Caderon had a first-hand knowledge of the Bard’s works. But not necessarily: it could be that they simply shared the same sources.

      This is getting a bit technical, but there are two reasons why I think Calderon was likely to have at least known of Shakespeare’s works. The first is that during Shakespeare’s time there was much European interest in the English stage, and cultivated Europeans would make a point of attending the theater when they visited London. There was an increasing amount of travel to and fro between England and other parts of Europe. I don’t think any traveler would have taken a Shakespeare script home to Europe: it would have been difficult to get hold of, since even Shakespeare’s actors weren’t given full scripts; furthermore, if a script had been taken away to Europe, it would likely still be available (there couldn’t have been a Globe fire there as well!) It’s very likely, though, that once Shakespeare’s Folio Complete Works was printed in 1623, 7 years after his death, within a few years Calderón would have gotten hold of a copy in Europe. (It’s also interesting to me that Calderon spent his early 20s in the Netherlands, which was a great place of refuge for English Catholics émigrés. And Shakespeare, of course, had been a closet Catholic.)

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