Shakespeare by the sea

Though the Shakespeare Santa Cruz festival does little to raise its visibility in these parts, it’s one of the genuine highlights of the summer circuit. Santa Cruz offers some of the smartest and most sophisticated shows of the season. It’s almost as close as Lake Tahoe and a good deal nearer than Ashland, Ore.

This year, the 25th anniversary for Shakespeare Santa Cruz, there’s a remarkable production of As You Like It, featuring one of the best performances you’ll ever see by an actor in the role of the comically morose Jaques. Dan Donohue’s delivery of the famous “Seven Ages of Man” speech is stunning, both for the way it’s spoken and the way he moves. The production—performed outdoors in a redwood glen—develops a distinct bucolic charm. The Southern Appalachian costumes and singing evoke the rustic setting of Shakespeare’s text in an American way.

Also notable is Paul Whitworth as Henry Higgins in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. Gone is the suave, always-in-control Higgins that we’ve come to expect from Rex Harrison’s performance in My Fair Lady (the affable musical based on Shaw’s play). Whitworth, who came up with the Royal Shakespeare Company, gives us Higgins as the playwright created him: intellectually brilliant but socially awkward and personally messy. He’s fascinated at the transformation he produces by teaching a guttersnipe girl to speak “proper” English, but he does not propose marriage in the final scene. Sacramento’s Gregg Coffin wrote music for this production, and former Sacramento Theatre Company artist Gary Armagnac is good as Alfred Doolittle.

There’s also a good production of King Lear, which is somewhat slow out of the gate but develops into a powerful drama as Lear loses his wits and goes out into the howling storm.

Shakespeare Santa Cruz continues through September 3 on the UC Santa Cruz campus. For more information, visit or call (831) 459-2159.