The out-of-towners

Plenty of short trips for summer theater

<i>The Pastures of </i><b><i> </i></b><i>Heaven</i> at Cal Shakes: It’s the <i>prêt-à-porter</i> California farmer look.

The Pastures of Heaven at Cal Shakes: It’s the prêt-à-porter California farmer look.

Photo By kevin berne

California Shakespeare Theater, Orinda; (510) 548-9666;
Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, Incline Village, Nevada; (775) 832-1616;
Shakespeare Santa Cruz; (831) 459-2159;

Sometimes, you’ve just got to take a break from the Sacramento summer heat. If you’re looking to head out of town for a summer theater festival in a nearby location that’s cooler than Sacramento, well, owing to the recession, there aren’t quite as many productions on the boards as the in the recent past, but there are still interesting options.

The most intriguing new show of the season will be opening very soon at California Shakespeare Theater in Orinda. To mark the 10-year anniversary of artistic director Jonathan Moscone’s association with the company, they will be premiering a new adaptation of John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven, based on a collection of stories set in the bucolic Coast Range of Monterey County, near Steinbeck’s home town of Salinas. The grassy, rounded hillsides that surround California Shakespeare’s Bruns Memorial Amphitheater are actually quite similar to “Steinbeck country.” A cast of 11 will portray more than 40 different characters, orchestrated by playwright Octavio Solis, with Moscone directing. Previews begin June 2; the show runs through June 27.

Other Cal Shakes shows this summer include George Bernard Shaw’s deliberately controversial play Mrs. Warren’s Profession, about a financially successful middle-aged female entrepreneur whose college-age daughter (returning home from studies at Cambridge University) is shocked to realize that the family business is a high-class brothel. The play was banned in London when Shaw finished it 1893, but is now regarded as a classic. The Cal Shakes production runs July 7 through August 1.

Cal Shakes will also stage Macbeth (as “a fever dream”) from August 18 through September 12, and the comedy Much Ado About Nothing from September 22 through October 17. If you go, dress warmly; the Bruns Memorial Amphitheater can get pretty chilly when the fog spills over from the Berkeley side of the mountains.

The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival embarks on a new course this summer: They aren’t staging any plays by Shakespeare. Instead, they’re doing the three-actor spoof The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), a frequently staged pastiche that presents the grisly tragedy Titus Andronicus as a cooking show. The festival will also host concerts on Mondays and Fridays featuring performers ranging from the Reno Philharmonic to bands playing blues, salsa, jazz and Afrobeat. All performances are at the Sand Harbor State Park Amphitheater on Lake Tahoe’s Nevada shoreline. The festival runs July 9 through August 22.

The Shakespeare Santa Cruz festival will do two shows in the festival’s redwood glen on the UC Santa Cruz campus—the tragedy Othello (which, in a country like ours where race is always an issue, never seems to go out of style), and the academic comedy Love’s Labor’s Lost (about young noblemen who convince themselves to hit the books and swear off wine, women and song—until several fetching young noblewomen appear).

The indoor show is James Goldman’s 1966 play The Lion in Winter, a comedy involving dynastic scheming, deception and imprisonment, as young princes contend for the crown that their aging father is not ready to relinquish. The Santa Cruz festival runs July 20 through August 29.