Cal Shakes opened its last production of the season with another tale of marital faith and forgiveness starring poignant to ditzy Omoze’ Idehenre, a gifted and deeply expressive graduate of San Francisco’s ACT, in Shakespeare’s tragi-comedy “A Winter’s Tale” or wives’ tale, which shows some great casting in general. The beautiful young actor will be off to Los Angeles to seek fame and fortune in March, getting a car and driving from the Bay Area. She will appear again in her alma mater's beloved seasonal production of "A Christmas Carol" with the third year students.
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Idehenre said at the opening night reception after the show that she would love do film particularly anything with Martin Scorcese. She admires Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslett. That’s Omoze’ in Cal Shakes’ poster for the production. She plays a martyr in this tale of redemption.
It's set in the near future amid gypsies with a magical retro travel trailer. The audience travels to magical places in the old wives tale the raconteurs tell.
Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale” is an old wives’ tale about Leontes, a old and gray bearded nobleman, who suddenly suspects his dutiful and loyal wife Hermoine has had an affair with Leontes’ brother, a tall and handsome young man named Polixenes. Old Leontes persecutes his young pregnant wife in a jealous rage, throwing her in prison and having her newborn thrown into the sea to drive her mad. It’s a theme similar to the young lovers in “Much Ado About Nothing”, where a virginal bride to be gets condemned publicly before the wedding by her beau after the beau is tricked into thinking her disloyal.
In each case the wife or betrothed forgives and goes back to the remorseful husband or fiancé, who has been filled with grief and guilt over the suffering and death he has caused. The husband/fiance’ ostensibly learns his lesson the hard way after hurting the one he loves in an Othellonian rage.
L. Peter Callender and Aldo Billingslea
L. Peter Callender of “Spunk” returns to play the Shakespearean wife abuser and persecutor in a role similar to the philandering abuser he played in “Spunk”. The difference is this is a morality play and not one about marital revenge and just desserts. “A Winter’s Tale” is more offensive to equal rights although in “A Winter’s Tale” the wife has had a child which helps explain why she took the punishment and stayed. “Spunk”, the more satisfying and ultimately joyous experience, was written by a more contemporary Black woman, not a white male.
Aldo Billlingslea returns after his own performance at Cal Shakes concerning a false accusation of infidelity in “Lady Windemere’s Fan” by Oscar Wilde. Prior, Billlingslea played the warm and affectionate working man and young husband who had his innocent wife, played by Omoze’ Idehenre, stolen by an old cad with a nice car in “Spunk”. Billingslea gets to loosen up and play the falsely accused male again as he did in “Lady Windemere’s Fan” but this time for laughs. His facial expressions look spontaneous and he actually gets one of the most inspired and zany sequences in the production. He gets the scene with one of the biggest Shakespearean stage directions, “Exuent, pursued by a bear”, which he has the stature and demeanor to pull off.
Tyee Tilghman and Tristan Cunningham
Tyee' (pronounced Tie-ee) Tilghman also of “Spunk” and “Lady Windemere’s Fan” lends a gentle and earnest tone to the production, a voice of soft spoken love, reason, earnestness and devotion against the harshness of Callender’s character.
Young and pretty Ms. Tristan Cunningham has the sweetest most innocent and earnest facial expressions and a soft voice that melds beautifully with Tyee' Tilghman's character, her suitor. She also dances and sings in this production, kicking up her heels and busting a move comedically.
Christopher Michael Rivera
Rivera plays the trickster and goofy musician for comic relief, coming from the drama of "Othello", "Macbeth" and "Much Ado about Nothing." Rivera, like Billingslea, has some inspired physical comedy brightened by interjecting present-day items into the Elizabethan.
Cal Shakes features not only Omoze’ Idehenre but an entire Black cast directed by two Black sisters who also directed the highly successful Black production at Cal Shakes “Spunk”. Patricia and Paloma McGregor invited the whole audience on stage to dance in “Spunk” and invited single volunteers on stage during “A Winter’s Tale”. “A Winter’s Tale” however is Shakespearean and while the audience did produce a volunteer or two, the participation only involved a feeble attempt at singing a Shakespearean ditty during a set change rather than a joyous dance number en masse as in “Spunk”, where the audience had many children and young folk. So it wasn’t quite the raucous Renaissance Fair or the quintessential Black call and response gospel format. The approach could have worked since each involve audience participation but in Elizabethan times participation easily meant throwing things at the actors rather than a spiritual singalong. Perhaps if it had been a drinking song.
Speaking of which, the opening night buffet featured wine, beer, dried fruits, hummus and crackers, along with pretty pear tarts brought on a tray to the guests by a volunteer. Jonathan Moscone and Susie Falk also thanked David for his set building and for many years of service with very little budget to work with as he prepares to depart for Portland. The cast soon came out in street clothes to mingle with guests.
“A Winter’s Tale” runs through October 20.
40th anniversary with all-female "Twelfth Night"
The 2014 season, the 40th anniversary, includes “A Raisin in the Sun” also directed by Patricia McGregor; Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” directed by Aaron Posner; “Pygmalion”, directed by Cal Shakes art director Jonathan Moscone; and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” directed by the zany and gifted Shana Cooper who directed the over-the-top madcap romantic comedy “Taming of the Shrew” for Cal Shakes.
The year long celebration starts with an all-female production of "Twelfth Night" and performed in prisons, homeless shelters and other Bay Area settings. Public performances start February 2014.
Single tickets for "A Winter's Tale" meanwhile range from $20 to $72 with discounts for seniors, students, military families, persons under 30 and groups. Cal Shakes hires volunteers.
Patrons may bring picnics to enjoy in the eucalyptus grove strung with lights; and drink adult beverages inside the theater during the production. The free shuttle between the theater and Orinda BART is easy and pleasant to use. Patrons may rent blankets and folding chairs at the theater.
The cafe offers healthy and tasty entrees such as a salmon soft taco for $8, pulled pork sandwiches on whole wheat, vegetarian chili on a big baked potato, brownies and cookies along with beer, wine and Peet's Coffee.
For more information: www.CalShakes.org
For more stories by this writer check out CBS San Francisco's website under Eye on the Bay, San Francisco arts & culture "Best Of"; and San Francisco Arts & Culture on Examiner.com. Subscribe by hitting the SUBSCRIBE button at the top of this article.
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