Ask Philippa: The War of the Roses edition

by Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg

Have a question for Philippa? Email pkelly@calshakes.org, or comment below!

The Henry VI and Richard III plays marked the young Shakespeare’s creation of a national history that spanned the rules of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III.  Shakespeare has Henry VI’s infancy mark the beginning of the War of the Roses—the rivalries between England’s bickering nobles in the power vacuum created by the death of a powerful king (Henry V) and the reign of an infant (Henry VI).  We see Shakespeare’s geographical scope contract in the course of the tetralogy—from the looming rivalry with France, we move inward to the bickering within one ruling family, the Plantagenets (Yorkists v. Lancastrians), and then inward again to the corrosion of the York family by Richard Gloucester of York, who clambers up a power vacuum, destroying everyone in his path—even his own brother, nephew and wife—to become Richard III. 

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).

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Ask Philippa: An Epic Journey


by Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg

Have a question for Philippa? Email pkelly@calshakes.org, or comment below!

Photo by Jay Yamada

This season traces an amazing arc from late medieval times through to the present day. We begin with Don Quixote, the most famous jewel from the Spanish Golden Age, adapted for Cal Shakes by one of America’s most important playwrights, Octavio Solis, under the new title, Quixote Nuevo. Solis (who adapted John Steinbeck’s Pastures of Heaven for Cal Shakes in our 2009 season) re-situates Don Quixote on the Mexican border, as Quixote, near the end of his life, looks back at the ideals and loves that have inspired him, portraying the very human quest to search all one’s life for a “nugget” of truth, or beauty, or joyousness, or innocence, that is barely remembered. We then move to Everybody, adapted by MacArthur genius Branden Jacobs-Jenkins from Everyman, originally an anonymously-authored late medieval play about the search for the most vital tool that a human being needs to take en route to “the great mystery.” In Jacobs-Jenkins’ hands, this is a play filled with surprise, poignancy and humor. In our final slot of the season we will stage a third adaptation, The War of the Roses, drawn from Shakespeare’s history plays. As a young man of under 30, and to huge public acclaim in the London theaters, Shakespeare wrote the Henry VI plays that we now know, together with Richard III, as his “minor tetralogy.” These plays about the saintly Henry VI and the conspirators who surround him, followed by the villainously attractive figure of Richard III, flesh out some of Shakespeare’s richest questions about how we mortal beings manage the threats, the temptations, the passions, the losses, that inevitably come with power.

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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).

 

 

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Ask Philippa: Measure for Measure Edition

Measure for Measure was written in 1604 at a pivotal moment in Shakespeare’s career. The playwright was 40 and had just finished writing a long line of comedies that explored complex issues of sex, marriage, and personal identity, and great tragedies—Othello, Macbeth, Lear—were in gestation. Measure falls somewhere between them, mixing the darkness of a brutal change of regime with the eventual relief of a comic resolution: along the way, it asks many questions and does not provide easy answers.

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.

Measure for Measure continues through September 8. Click here to learn more and buy tickets!

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Ask Philippa: The Glass Menagerie

“I wasn’t prepared for what the future brought me,” says Tennesee Williams’ Amanda Wingfield. Looking back to genteel Southern roots that haven’t yielded the kind of life she imagined for herself, Amanda tries to shape success for her children, Tom and Laura. Amanda’s indomitable spirit and childlike optimism refuse to be quashed by experience, and her sassy humor peeps through the most dire situation to give us one of the most famous voices of 20th century American Theater. Looking back on his experience to bring forth the story of Amanda, her two children, and her absent husband, Tom unfolds, in The Glass Menagerie, the coming-of-age story of playwright Tennessee Williams. The Glass Menagerie is a “memory play” for Tom, and it is a “memory play” for Williams, who, Gore Vidal has suggested, “could not possess his own life until he had written about it.”

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.

The Glass Menagerie begins performances July 5 and continues through July 30. Click here to learn more and buy tickets!

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Ask Philippa: As You Like It

ask-philippa-othelloAs You Like It is in some ways Shakespeare’s most ambitious play. It follows a group of exiles—some banished, some running away—all of whom leave home to journey to the forest of Arden, finding en route a new home of sorts.  And then there are the banishers in whose hearts “exile” lives: they are given a chance for renewal and a kind of plentitude that they didn’t know existed. Written in Shakespeare’s mature years just before the great span of tragedies, As You Like It features Rosalind, perhaps his greatest female role to date, a character who would, in another age and time, make a very effective lawyer or theatrical director. Rosalind provokes the other characters —and herself—to consider unshackling themselves from social straitjackets: what’s left behind? What is revealed?

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.

As You Like It begins performances May 24 and continues through June 18. Click here to learn more and buy tickets!

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Ask Philippa: Othello Edition

ask-philippa-othelloAs Othello opens, the story of the great General’s marriage is quickly spat out to Desdemona’s father, Brabantio, as a scandalous piece of news. ‘An old black ram is tapping your white ewe,’ says Iago, Othello’s subordinate. But why is the story of Othello’s marriage delivered in this way? Who is Othello–the great General so esteemed for saving Venice, or the scandalous over-reacher who has “reached” into a senator’s home and stolen away his daughter?
And who does he become? As the play progresses, jealousy is awakened as a sleeping monster in Othello’s breast, eroding his marriage, his confidence, his belief system, and his very identity. And for this great war machine, Othello, a new and shocking question emerges that he has no tools to deal with: what is the price of a life in a world away from warfare?

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.

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Ask Philippa: Fences Edition

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo courtesy Philippa Kelly.

Fences is the third in a cycle of ten plays through which African American playwright August Wilson sought to document the way in which his community experienced different forms of systematic oppression over different decades during the twentieth century. All of the plays in this series (the Pittsburgh Cycle – named after the city where Wilson grew up and spent over half of his life) are set inside, in the yard of, or involve the purchase of, a house, with families that struggle to forge, re-make and retain their identities in the shadow of oppression. Wilson’s characters are famous for their capacity, as he put it, to “embody universal experience in the black experience,” and we see this in Troy’s metaphysical struggles to understand his life in the face of death. We see it also in Rose, who realizes, only too late, that the confines of her marriage were the product of her own limited expectations for herself as well as her husband’s domination.

I can’t wait for you to see Fences, the first of Wilson’s plays to win the Pulitzer Prize, and the first of his plays ever to be staged at Cal Shakes.

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.

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Ask Philippa: Much Ado About Nothing Edition

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo courtesy Philippa Kelly.

Much Ado About Nothing, written at the end of the 16th century adjacent to Hamlet and Twelfth Night, is a fascinating concoction of merriment and betrayal, sorrow and surprise. Under the leadership of our new Artistic Director, Eric Ting, classical works become new works, seen on our stage as if for the first time. In her evocation of Shakespeare’s busy port town of Messina, where the classes jostle, everyone eavesdrops, and nothing is as it seems, Director Jackson Gay has created a special frame for our Cal Shakes production. Much Ado, in her hands, provokes intriguing questions about the roles that are assigned to us, the roles that others think we should play, the roles that are taken away from us, and those that we might hold as dreams deep inside. Come join us – and when you get home, write and tell me what you think!

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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.

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Ask Philippa: The Tempest edition

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo courtesy Philippa Kelly.

Power and authority, betrayal, injustice, what it means to be a parent, what it means to love and to relinquish: These are some of the themes threading through Shakespeare’s late masterpiece, The Tempest. Come see our All the Bay’s a Stage production, directed by Rebecca Novick and starring three of our Cal Shakes favorites as well as four new additions to our theater family. We welcome you to share your thoughts, just as we’ve been honored to share our stage.

I’d be delighted to answer any artistic or dramaturgy questions about what’s in store for this touring production of The Tempest, which will culminate in six public performances at the Oakland Museum of California. Curious about cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Ask Philippa! Please leave your questions in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

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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.

The Tempest runs Fri-Sun from Nov. 13-22 at the Oakland Museum of California. To buy $20 tickets to these intimate public performances click here; or, call the Box Office at 510.548.9666.

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Ask Philippa! Lear Stories Edition

 

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo courtesy Philippa Kelly.

King Lear is about an elderly king who makes a fatal, capricious decision that wreaks havoc on his country. But it is his family that is the focus of this play—his blood relatives and their husbands and servants, as well as the “family” of loyal servants who try to comfort him in his bewilderment, suffering and rage. They remind Lear of who he was and is (“your Majesty”). But the true meaning of their love goes deeper than titles and entitlements—they are willing to suffer with him, to give themselves over to the service of love.

We are all in some sense servants when we love: the king has never known this, but he comes to discover what love can mean. The place where we first learn about love—and about how to misunderstand or abuse it—is in our families, those places of intense, chaotic, misdirected feeling.

In The King and I I wrote my own personal account of family love, which sought to illuminate, via King Lear, how I saw my own family within the larger networks of Australian society. I looked to King Lear to tell me more about my family, and I looked to my family and my society to afford a deeper and richer understanding of King Lear.

King Lear invites us to think of our families within a frame bigger than ourselves; deeper than ourselves; more varied than our own personal experience.

Kjerstine Rose Anderson as Cordelia and Anthony Heald as Lear in Cal Shakes' production of King Lear. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Loss, abandonment, entitlement, authority—these issues are all fundamental to King Lear, and, 400 years later, this play still resonates deeply within families all over the world. We all come from some kind of “family”—some two people generated us, and they had their own lines of descent. We may experience our families as absent, loving, broken, supportive, ungrateful, or even, as Lear does, destructive—but all of these experiences constitute some kind of family connection.  I don’t pretend to have the answers to complex family dynamics (although, being a Lear scholar, I have many thoughts about them). But if you have a response to King Lear that evokes your own family relationships, here are four things you can do:

 

  1. Show up at the Bruns on the evening of September 24th (6-7pm) or 25th (6:30-7:30pm), or at the Champion donor event on October 10th. At any of these three events (or at all—our stories often shift as we tell them) you can record your family story with Cal Shakes’ Rebecca Novick and her Triangle Lab team. The Cal Shakes Triangle Lab is partnering with communities to make a moving document of “Lear family stories,” of which your story can be a vital part.
  2. Email your thoughts to Rebecca (rnovick@calshakes.org) if they feel, as a whole, too personal to be shared in public circulation. There will be an opportunity to work out with Rebecca and her team whether you feel that any part of your story is suitable for the community art-making project in written form. You are the artist; Cal Shakes is your artistic collaborator.
  3. Blog your thoughts here on Ask Philippa! to be shared on this forum.
  4. Avail yourself of the email address available below, in which case I will receive your story directly and will treat your thoughts as personal. I’ll be delighted simply to read and respond.
Learn more from Rebecca and her team and sign up for or the project here.

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 or tell your family story.

Buy tickets for King Lear here; or, call the Box Office at 510.548.9666.

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