Meet our Earl of Gloucester: Charles Shaw Robinson

During the run of King Lear (Sep. 16–Oct. 11) we will be posting interviews with the cast to help our audiences get to know the men and women behind some of Shakespeare’s most tragic characters. What was the first role they ever played? What is their pre-show ritual? To find out, keep reading! 

Charles Shaw Robinson as the Earl of Gloucester in King Lear. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Charles Shaw Robinson as the Earl of Gloucester in King Lear. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Charles Shaw Robinson’s “clarity of language and thought make you wish he were in every Shakespeare play,” wrote Chad Jones in this Theater Dogs review of King Lear. The Juilliard-trained actor is close to granting his wish, having played Iago in Othello, Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, and Brutus in Julius Caesar here at Cal Shakes, plus the title roles in Hamlet at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, and Pericles at Center Stage. He also played an incarnation of Shakespeare himself called Shag in Equivocation at the Marin Theatre Company. Here, the superior Shakespearean actor talks about his favorite role he’s every played (It’s a Shakespeare character of course!) and how to get a seat on a busy BART ride…

Where are you from?

I’m a local boy. San Francisco.

What do you think your King Lear character’s best quality is? Worst?

Best: kindness. Worst: lack of insight.

Favorite line in King Lear:

‘Tis the time’s plague, when madmen lead the blind.

First experience at a play, or musical:

I saw my first professional play at A.C.T.

First acting gig:

I played the Troll in Three Billy Goats Gruff in first grade.

Favorite role you’ve ever played:

Iago

Favorite Shakespeare play:

Much Ado About Nothing

Do you have pets? If so, what are they?

Does a teenage son count?

What shows/movies/books/art have you seen/read lately that have really spoken to you?

The novel, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel; and the Keith Haring exhibit at the de Young.

What is your pre-show ritual?

Eat dinner early, take a brief nap, read the play again.

What is your line memorization technique?

Mumble my lines aloud on BART—it always gets me a seat.

The one performance you’ve seen that you’ll never forget:

Anthony Hopkins in Equus on Broadway; or Fiona Shaw in Machinal at the National, London; or Janet McTeer in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House on Broadway.

King Lear runs through October 11. For tickets click here.

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Meet our Goneril: Arwen Anderson

During the run of King Lear (Sep. 16–Oct. 11) we will be posting interviews with the cast to help our audiences get to know the men and women behind some of Shakespeare’s most tragic characters. What was the first role they ever played? What is their pre-show ritual? To find out, keep reading! 

(l-r) Anthony Heald as King Lear, Arwen Anderson as Goneril, and El Beh as Regan in King Lear. Photo by Kevin Berne.

(l-r) Anthony Heald as King Lear, Arwen Anderson as Goneril, and El Beh as Regan in King Lear. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Arwen Anderson’s ice blue eyes pierce through to the back row of the Bruns when she gives evil orders like, “Pluck out his eyes,” as Lear’s vindictive elder daughter Goneril. Having played Lady Capulet in our 2013 production of Romeo and Juliet, Anderson has become almost as good at sending a chill through Cal Shakes as these early October nights, but the actress has a warmer side too. In that same production she deftly balanced Juliet’s misguided mom with the peacekeeper Benvolio and she earned rave reviews for her role as the devoted Julia in The Verona ProjectKing Lear director, Amanda Dehnert’s 2011 musical adaptation of The Two Gentlemen of Verona–where not only did Anderson sing, but she also played multiple instruments. Pretty good for a girl who literally got her start at the Bottom…

Where are you from?

I was born in Staten Island, NY; raised in Bucks County, PA; and have lived in San Francisco for almost 19 years now.

What do you think your King Lear character’s best quality is? Worst?

Goneril is super smart and well spoken. Alas, she is also entitled and power hungry and will do ANYthing she needs to do to get what she wants.

Favorite line in King Lear:

Right now, I don’t know about a favorite line in the play, but I am always caught by Lear’s line towards the end, after Cordelia has died: “Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life and thou no breath at all?” I find it terribly sad and moving.

First experience at a play, or musical:

When I was five, I saw Annie on Broadway. I was hooked. I came home and told my parents I wanted to be an orphan.

First acting gig:

I was Bottom in Midsummer in fourth or fifth grade. I was tall for my age and this was the start of many years of being given boys’ roles. I was devastated. I wanted to wear a dress, not an ass head.

Favorite role you’ve ever played:

That’s easy. It was here [at Cal Shakes] as Julia in The Verona Project, which was also with Amanda Dehnert. No question. 🙂 (Although, my runner up is Stella in Streetcar [Named Desire].)

Favorite Shakespeare play:

I don’t really do favorites, but I did recently see Cymbeline and found it very strange and intriguing.

Do you have pets? If so, what are they?

Oh yes: an old man cat named Gato and two parakeets named Motleys and Mugwump.

What shows/movies/books/art have you seen/read lately that have really spoken to you?

Ha! I wish I had something brilliant to say here, but I had a baby a year and a half ago, and quite frankly I wasn’t able to see, read, or watch much at all during that time. Although I did carve out time to read Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane, and I loved it.  He has an imagination the size of an ocean and it’s always a huge treat to dip into it.

What is your pre-show ritual?

Breathing. Deep breathing.

What is your line memorization technique?

I just repeat them as often as I can. While walking, biking, on the BART… Over and over and over…

The one performance you’ve seen that you’ll never forget:

Again, it’s so hard to pick one. There is an amazing group out of Montreal called Les 7 doigts de la main. They do a blend of acrobatics/aerial and theater and they never disappoint. But about 10 years ago they toured a show called Rain and it was the most beautiful and joyful and simple and astonishing and heartfelt night I can remember in the theater.

King Lear runs through October 11. For tickets click here.

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Meet our Earl of Kent: Aldo Billingslea

During the run of King Lear (Sep. 16–Oct. 11) we will be posting interviews with the cast to help our audiences get to know the men and women behind some of Shakespeare’s most tragic characters. What was the first role they ever played? What is their pre-show ritual? To find out, keep reading! 

Aldo Billingslea as the Earl of Kent in King Lear. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Aldo Billingslea as the Earl of Kent in King Lear. Photo by Jay Yamada.

“Aldo Billingslea brings down the house with a tour de force delivery of old Kent’s cavalcade of insults,” wrote Robert Hurwitt in his San Francisco Chronicle review of King Lear. Before Billingslea brought down the Bruns as the Earl of Kent, Lear’s closest advisor who epically hands Goneril’s servant his behind, he entertained Cal Shakes’ audiences in a wide-range of roles including, Sweet Back and Joe in 2012’s Spunk, and Polixenes and the Bear in The Winter’s Tale and Lord Windermere in Lady Windermere’s Fan during our 2013 season. Offstage he is a Professor of Theatre Arts at Santa Clara University where he teaches acting, directs plays, and is Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion. Plus it appears he knows a thing or two about raising chickens…

Where are you from?

Born in San Bernadino; lived in Istanbul, Michigan, and got to Fort Worth, Texas by second grade.

What do you think your King Lear character’s best quality is? Worst?

Best: Loyalty

Worst: Lack of impulse control!

Favorite line in King Lear:

Calling someone an S.O.B.!

First experience at a play, or musical:

Third grade watching Hansel and Gretel as opera

First acting gig:

Pierre and the Lion in Carole King’s Really Rosie

Favorite role you’ve ever played:

Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man

Favorite Shakespeare play:

Othello

Do you have pets? If so, what are they?

Beckwourth the 16 ½-year-old Lab/Chow mix; Ramon the turtle; Benjamin the cat; Rose, Daisy, Tulip, Buttercup, and Chrysanthemum the chickens.

What shows/movies/books/art have you seen/read lately that have really spoken to you?

The New Jim Crow [Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander]

What is your pre-show ritual?

Driving

What is your line memorization technique?

I read the other actor’s part. A lot.

The one performance you’ve seen that you’ll never forget:

Mark Rucker’s The Taming of the Shrew at South Coast Rep with Marco Barricelli.  Perfect, witty, sexy, Rat Pack, and everything rooted in the text.  I saw it three times and PAID TWICE!

King Lear runs through October 11. For tickets click here.

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Meet our Cordelia (who also plays the Fool): Kjerstine Rose Anderson

During the run of King Lear (Sep. 16–Oct. 11) we will be posting interviews with the cast to help our audiences get to know the men and women behind some of Shakespeare’s most tragic characters. What was the first role they ever played? What is their pre-show ritual? To find out, keep reading! 

Kjerstine Rose Anderson as the Fool in King Lear. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival-regular Kjerstine Rose Anderson begins our production of King Lear with a hauntingly beautiful rendition of “The rain it raineth every day” from Twelfth Night. This sentiment carries through her revelatory performance as both Lear’s youngest (and favorite) daughter Cordelia, and the lovingly pesky—imaginary?—Fool. In his Theater Dogs review Chad Jones wrote, “Anderson is terrific in both roles, crackling good chemistry with the marvelous Anthony Heald as Lear.” She makes her Cal Shakes debut in King Lear. With a performance like this, we hope she’ll be back every season!

Where are you from?

Seattle, Washington

What do you think your King Lear character’s best quality is? Worst?

Generosity. Pride.

Favorite line in King Lear:

“Sa, sa, sa, sa!”

First experience at a play, or musical:

I played Yum-Yum in The Mikado in seventh grade.

First acting gig:

An adaptation of Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier at Book-It Rep in Seattle.

Favorite role you’ve ever played:

Elinor in Sense & Sensibility

Favorite Shakespeare play:

Much Ado About Nothing (Ed. Note: Much Ado just happens to be our 2016 Season opener!)

Do you have any pets? If so, what are they?

Jupiter the cat

What shows/movies/books/art have you seen/read lately that have really spoken to you?

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

What is your pre-show ritual?

Coffee.

What is your line memorization technique?

Figure out what I mean…

The one performance you’ve seen that you’ll never forget:

Hamilton at the Public. BEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN—EVERYONE SHOULD SEE IT. [Ed. note: Hamilton is currently playing on Broadway.]

King Lear runs through October 11. For tickets click here.

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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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Share Your Story for the Lear Family Stories Project

September 18, 2015  |  Rebecca Novick

 Our family is where we learn about love – for better or for worse.  King Lear demands that his daughters compete for land by telling him how much they love him and he sets a terrible tragedy in motion.  We want to know how love, legacy and loss have played a role in your life.  

 About the Lear Family Stories project:

The Triangle Lab is launching a community story-sharing project inspired by the deep examination of family love and its limitations in Shakespeare’s Lear. The Lear Family Stories project will invite a wide variety of participants to share how love, legacy and loss work in their family.

 We’ll begin by inviting audience members at Cal Shakes’s Fall 2015 production of Lear to share related stories.  Artists, staff and board members will also be invited to participate.  We will then expand past Cal Shakes’ core audience to invite stories from students at Civicorps (a job-training and alternative education program in Oakland) and Our Space (a community center for LGBTQ youth in Hayward).

 These stories – and the framework of Lear – will be the springboard for a new piece of theater to be performed in Spring 2016.  Lead artists (and Cal Shakes’ staff members) Rebecca Novick and Lisa Evans will work with selected participants from our story circles as well as professional actors to create the performance.  Stories will also be shared in a podcast format.

 How you can participate:

 1) Record a story in our booth at the Bruns on September 24th or 25th (open to the public) or on October 10th (at our Champion Donor event).  Click here to learn more about sharing a story, read our prompts, and sign up for a slot.

 2) Join our Cal Shakes story circle. We’ll be holding an evening story-sharing circle in January as part of phase 2 of the project. If you’re interested in attending, please contact Rebecca at rnovick (at) calshakes.org.

 3) Story circle participants may be invited to participate in the devising, rehearsal and performance of the play.  Learn more about this by attending our story circle.

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Meet our King Lear: Anthony Heald

 

Anthony Heald as King Lear. Photo by Kevin Berne.

During the run of King Lear (Sep. 16–Oct. 11) we will be posting interviews with the cast to help our audiences get to know the men and women behind some of Shakespeare’s most tragic characters. What was the first role they ever played? What is their pre-show ritual? To find out, keep reading! 

First up is Anthony Heald, who plays King Lear. He is a two-time Tony nominee who has spent the past year playing the double role of Ross and Bishop How in the record-breaking Broadway and West End runs of The Elephant Man. The long-time Oregon Shakespeare Festival company member is also known for playing Hannibal Lecter’s arch-nemesis Dr. Frederick Chilton in The Silence of the Lambs and the Vice Principal Scott Guber in Boston Public. Heald makes his Cal Shakes debut in King Lear.

Where are you from?

Born and raised in the New York City area—Long Island (Massapequa).

What do you think your King Lear character’s best quality is? Worst?

Lear’s best quality, which is in slim supply as the play starts, but builds as the story unfolds, is the care he takes with those around him. Lear’s worst quality is his narcissism and his hot temper—his expectation that he deserves special treatment, and his sudden rages when he’s frustrated.

Favorite line in King Lear:

It’s so difficult to choose in a play so verbally rich and full of ideas. It would probably be, “Take physic, pomp, Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, That thou mayst shake the superflux to them And show the heavens more just.”

First experience at a play, or musical:

The first play I remember seeing—I was probably eight or so—was You Can’t Take It With You. My mother and father were playing parts in our community theater’s first real production, after several years of play readings.

First acting gig:

My first professional acting job came the summer I turned 19 (1963), when I worked at the Houghton Lake Playhouse in Michigan. I used my first name (Phil) in the Children’s Theater programs, but when I got my first main stage show, I decided to use my middle name, Anthony. Weeks later an audience member praised my performance and said, with great sympathy, “I saw your brother Phil in the kiddy show—he’s nowhere near as good as you are!”

Favorite role you’ve ever played:

Lear is a very, very special role—one I’ve been dreaming of and preparing for over the years. Before that, Iago? Shylock? Tartuffe?

Favorite Shakespeare play:

I think A Midsummer Night’s Dream is practically a perfect play—which, of course, makes it terribly difficult to mount successfully. I also love Measure for Measure.

Do you have any pets? If so, what are they?

We have far too many pets in our home. My wife and I have three dogs, and our daughter has one. She also has three cats, and three horses, but they don’t live at home.

What shows/movies/books/art have you seen/read lately that have really spoken to you?

I confess to having been sort of locked in Lear land for the last year or so. I get enormous pleasure and satisfaction out of doing my research.

What is your pre-show ritual?

I try to always to get there at least an hour to an hour-and-a-­half before curtain. I check that my stage properties are where they need to be, I take a nice, slow, relaxed time with my makeup, and getting into my clothes. I try to do a 15-minute vocal/physical warm-­up. I try to speak with everyone in the cast.

What is your line memorization technique?

Long, hard work. Daily sessions with frequent drills. I need to know all my lines down cold before I even begin rehearsals. I don’t ever want to waste any valuable time, energy, and focus during rehearsals (and performances) feeling anxious over not being certain what I have been given to say.

The one performance you’ve seen that you’ll never forget:

Angela Lansbury in Sweeney Todd.

To read more about Heald’s experience preparing to play King Lear at Cal Shakes, pick up a program at a performance of King Lear which runs through October 11. For tickets click here.

 

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Coming Next: King Lear starring Anthony Heald

Anthony Heald as Shylock in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 2010 production of The Merchant of Venice. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Capes are being fitted, swords ordered, and “blood meetings” are taking place. That can only mean one thing: Rehearsals for King Lear,  directed by Amanda Dehnert—the creative force behind our 2011 production of The Verona Projectare in full swing.

Making his Cal Shakes debut as King Lear will be Anthony Heald. He has appeared in hit films and TV shows like The Silence of the Lambs, X-Men: The Last Stand, and Boston Public, as well as on Broadway, where he has been nominated for two Tony Awards and was most recently seen alongside Bradley Cooper in a record-breaking revival of The Elephant Man. But as the long-time Oregon Shakespeare Festival company member said in a recent interview with Cal Shakes, he feels most at home when performing in a Shakespeare play at an organization like Cal Shakes or OSF. “I’ve done seven Broadway productions and it’s wonderful in terms of the exposure,” said Heald, “but the actual experience of performing on Broadway, for my money, doesn’t compare with performing on the stage of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival—and I’m certain the experience of performing at the California Shakespeare Theater.”

Joining Heald on the Bruns stage will be Arwen Anderson, El Beh, and Kjerstine Rose Anderson as his three daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia, respectively. Aldo Billingslea, last seen at Cal Shakes in the 2013 productions of Lady Windermere’s Fan and A Winter’s Tale will play the Earl of Kent, and audiences may remember Charles Shaw Robinson, who recently appeared alongside El Beh in SF Playhouse’s Stupid F**cking Bird, from Cal Shakes’ 2010 world premiere of John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven by Octavio Solis. He will play the Earl of Gloucester. Dan Clegg (Romeo in 2013’s Romeo and Juliet), and Rafael Jordan (our upcoming tour of The Tempest) will play Gloucester’s sons, Edmund and Edgar.

To read our full interview with Heald pick up a program at a performance of King Lear, which begins previews on September 16th and runs through October 11th. For tickets click here.

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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.

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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.

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

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