The second half of the first annual Lit Moon World Shakespeare
Festival brought another half dozen remarkable productions of
Shakespeare plays to Santa Barbara. For many, the highlight was the
Bulgarian National Theatre’s irreverent six-man production of Romeo
and Juliet at the Lobero. It ended with a spectacular onstage
rainstorm and combined raw theatricality and inventive slapstick.
At Center Stage Theater, puppets and people alike had their strings
pulled by the unearthly power of Shakespeare’s magical language.
I’ll Believe Thee
Romeo and Juliet, presented by Bulgarian National Theatre
(Sofia, Bulgaria). At the Lobero Theatre, Thursday, October 19.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Schwyzer
It takes some kind of nerve to stage the most famous love story
in the entire canon of Western literature. What can any
contemporary director possibly add to Romeo and Juliet?
If you’re Lilia Abadjieva of the Bulgarian National Theatre, the
answer is plenty. Almost as soon as the play started, Silvester
Silvestrov strutted onstage in a polka-dot housedress and oversized
sunglasses to deliver a complete synopsis of the action in just
three minutes of glib gossip. With the business of telling the plot
out of the way, the six men in the cast proceeded to tear the
timeless tale wide open. With fearlessness and honesty, and through
parody, absurdity, and absolute defenselessness, they exposed the
deep tragedy of love and death, and genuinely explored what it is
to be human.
At first, the ludicrousness of cross-dressers in puffed-sleeved
ball gowns doing slapstick routines had the audience tittering.
But, as scene after farcical scene sped past, the emotional truth
of the work began to hit home, and the tragedy within the comedy
revealed itself. In desperation, Juliet attempted suicide, first
with a plate, then with a knife, a fork, and a water glass, until
she finally expired—from a pollen allergy.
When a heartbreakingly beautiful rain began to pour from the
rafters, Romeo and Juliet floundered and staggered and died a
watery death, only to be resurrected as strobe-lit ravers and
pouting models strutting on a flooded catwalk. This production was
a similar success, and just as radically illuminating.
Maybe I’m a Maze
The Tempest, presented by Lit Moon Theatre Company. At
Center Stage Theater, Saturday, October 21. Reviewed by
Milon Kalis was responsible for the elegant and challenging
scenography of this Tempest, which involved a simulated forest made
of vertical hanging lengths of bamboo. Lit Moon stalwarts Stanley
Hoffman, Peter John Duda, Victoria Finlayson, and Kate Louise
Paulsen outdid themselves in handling multiple roles, showing that
they have the ability not only to differentiate but to embody
vastly different characters while serving in the same play. For
example, as Miranda, Peter John Duda looked stunning and demure in
a full-length gown, while as Alonso, King of Naples, Duda was
suitably regal and fully masculine—a neat trick.
The play’s most unusual concept involved transferring the
audience, one or two at a time, from the Center Stage seating area
to a set of folding chairs arranged in the round onstage. This
occurred early in the performance, and the intimacy achieved by the
move more than justified the disruption. I was perched in a corner,
and there were moments when the actors were facing away from me,
but many more when I felt as though I were there among them, a
willing prisoner of Shakespeare’s enchanted island.
Asking Big Questions Rogue, by Erik
Ehn. At Westmont College’s Porter Theatre, Saturday, October 21.
Reviewed by Charles Donelan
Contemporary playwright and CalArts dean Erik Ehn wrote this
complex and intriguing theater piece during a residency at Westmont
College last year. It explores the origins and significance of the
characters Hamlet and Ophelia through juxtaposition with material
drawn from the life of the Catholic Saint Vincent. The cast for
this production was made up entirely of Westmont students, and they
have grown into their roles admirably since last year’s
performance, which was also successful. This version was truly
powerful, and showed that the play and the cast have great depth
As Hamlet, Amber Angelo, who also played the queen in Richard
II, showed again that she is the most exciting young actress in
Santa Barbara. Her physical presence and Mitchell Thomas’s skillful
directing created what amounted to a play within a play as she
struggled with Hamlet’s interiority from inside a rectangular space
defined by white light against the theater’s back wall. Her simple
costume of a man’s black suit and a white tank top made an
effective contrast to the wide variety of outfits gracing the rest
of the ensemble.
Party On, Macbeth Shakespeare Jam
Cabaret. At Center Stage Theater, Saturday, October 21.
Reviewed by Felicia M. Tomasko
As these intimate performances at Center Stage Theater extended
well past midnight, we got the unmistakable impression that the
festival performers would continue until the sun rose, if the
audience kept applauding.
This performance featured many Shakespeare festival artists:
Erin Brehm of Lit Moon, Czech dancer and choreographer Antonie
Svoboda (who brought That Play to Westmont last week), and James
Connolly and the Gove County String Quartet. The evening was a
night of Connolly’s music, as his compositions flavored all the
performances. It was alternately evocative, haunting, and
Svoboda, a vision of ethereal beauty in white, dashed through
the theater’s doorway and ended up completing her opening piece by
breaking down obstacles. Brehm offered another view of Lady Macbeth
in a monologue that she wrote to investigate what Lady Macbeth
might say if she reluctantly entered therapy. What if the lady
decided to express herself through music? Brehm broke into a
rendition of “I Couldn’t Die,” humorously set to the familiar tune
of “I Will Survive.” The Gove County String Quartet wrapped the
entire evening in gorgeous, multi-layered compositions such as
“Forgetting the Names of Trees in the Polish Woods,” and everyone
broke into song to wish Lit Moon Director John Blondell “Happy
Birthday.” This jam indeed was a fitting tribute to a great week of
Puppet Love As You
Like It, presented by the State Puppet Theatre (Bourgas,
Bulgaria). At Center Stage Theater, Wednesday, October 18. Reviewed
by Felicia M. Tomasko
Storytellers and puppeteers Iroslav Petokov and Nedilina
Mladenova pulled a delightful romantic comedy out of their
sleeves—literally—for this Bulgarian puppet theater performance.
Like magicians conjuring rabbits out of hats, the duo sprung
puppets from their deceptive costumes and into a life of their own.
These were not marionettes, but pliable and expressive hand puppets
that the two storytellers used together with their own bodies to
portray Shakespeare’s characters. The Orlando puppet, for example,
sat on Petokov’s lap, with the human actor’s hands and feet
creating his expressions and body language. Director Hristina
Arsenova, who shortened the original text, kept the essence of the
play intact. Even without the English supertext projected behind
the action, the audience could follow the story through the tonal
qualities of the Bulgarian narrative and the intense physicality of
At one point, Petokov even threw in the death scene from Romeo
and Juliet, perhaps to express a sense of love as tragedy, in
contrast to the sense of love fulfilled offered in As You Like It,
but he quickly switched back to the love story we were all waiting
for. And by the end, we all liked it.