Theater in the Trees: Cal Shakes Lear

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On Saturday night, we drove up past Berkeley and Oakland and into the Orinda hills for the California Shakespeare festival’s (Cal Shakes) production of Lear. After parking in the gravel lot, we wound our way up the lighted path, through picnic benches (lots of people come early to enjoy a meal before the show), café lights strung overhead.

We grabbed a glass of wine from the concession stand and headed to our seats in the outdoor amphitheater. The theater itself feels intimate despite being able to seat over 500 people–I don’t think there’s a bad seat in the house.

We were advised to bring layers and blankets because even in the summer, it gets chilly. And they aren’t kidding. We weren’t freezing by any means, but we both had on sweatshirts, a jacket/coat, and a blanket for our laps. So dress warmly if you go. At intermission we grabbed hot drinks from the concession stand, and that helped a lot too.

The play itself was billed as an adaptation and interpretation of King Lear by Marcus Gardley–and what an interpretation! Set in the late 1960s with a mostly Black cast, this version of King Lear is deeply layered with more modern history, humor, and power struggles including the Black Panther movement and police violence. The altered lines are so well done, they not only offer deeper context, but there’s so much attention to the original structure. The new lines are in verse, often rhyming and sometimes making use of Shakespeare’s iconic iambic structure. Intermingled with the new lines is the great use of Jazz blues to illuminate a local (set in the Bay area) rendition of the play’s themes. I cannot say enough great things about the writing!

And the performances live up to the material. James A. Williams makes an absolutely devastating Lear–magnificent and tragic. Most of the players have multiple parts throughout the play, which makes the whole thing so dynamic. The women in the play are powerful and commanding as queens. Many of the characters change gender either through disguising their identity (as Cathleen Ridley does as the Countess of Kent), or by playing two characters (as Sam Jackson does as Cordelia and the updated fool, the Stand-up Comic).

The performance makes dynamic use of the set as well as the wings and brings the audience into the action directly.

Truly I cannot say enough wonderful things about this experience! If you’re in the Bay area and you’re able to catch the performance before Oct 2nd, I urge you to go.

Tickets starting at $35 available at:

They still check vaccination/negative test status, so bring your paperwork/pictures with you. Don’t skimp on warm clothes!

What I’ve Been Reading This Week

I subscribe to lots of things–probably too many–and as such whenever I go on vacation (or don’t feel like reading things), I develop a huge backlog of reading. While I was cleaning this week, I’d take I-can’t-stand-it-one-more-minute breaks that I told myself were productive because I was clearing out the back log of feminist newsletters, book/literary news, and daily poetry.

Here are a few pieces from Lit Hub that I really enjoyed reading this week:

Poetry is one of those things that I never seem to be motivated enough to buy and read collections of, which is a shame because there’s so much good poetry out there–even if you don’t think you like poetry. This list is broken down by types of readers and includes some great poets–ancient, modern, and contemporary. A lot of them are famous enough that your library might have them, which is great because I don’t often return to a book over and over again.

I may be borderline obsessed with Jane Austen, but it’s only because I think she is such a great observer of humanity. Korducki shares her opinion in this essay that marriage is still mired in the bizarre mix of practical considerations and affection that was just starting to make itself known in Austen’s time. She also shares her own experience of coming to Austen’s work, which is less of my fan-girl type experience and more of a this-is-an-18th-slash-19th-century-English-class-and-you’re-an-English-major-so-reading-Austen-is-compulsory type of experience.

I love 90s movies. And adaptations. And Shakespeare. Some of my favorites like Much Ado About Nothing and 10 Things I Hate About You are on this list as well as some others I haven’t seen and now have to add to my watch list, which is always growing.

And, saving the best for last:

My obsession with Shakespeare, Austen, and film is only rivaled by my love of fairy tales. Fine’s essay about the nature of desire in fairy tales (and the consequences of getting what you want or wanting too much) was riveting for me. A totally different way of looking at what a fairy tale is meant to do.


Have you read anything that sparked your interest this week? Let me know in the comments.

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten of My All Time Favorites: 100 Years Old or More Classics Edition


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from The Broke and the Bookish.

I usually don’t like being asked about my favorite book (or my favorite film). There are so many books I love, and it’s difficult to give any answer. Do you say the book you’ve loved the longest (The Wizard of Oz)? The book that influenced you so much when you were growing up (The Diary of Anne Frank)? The series that you reread at least once a year because it’s still amazing (Harry Potter)? The series that blew your mind as a teenager (The Incarnations of Immortality)? Your favorite book by your favorite author (The Importance of Being Earnest and/or Emma)? The best contemporary novel you’ve read in a long time (White Teeth and/or Possession)? Your favorite modern classic (The Master and Margarita)? I have no idea how to judge this. Does poetry count? Do plays? Do you pick one per genre?

And then there’s the classic problem–that when asked this question I forget all the books that I’ve read. Or that I’ve ever read books. I just sit there.

I really need to prepare an answer to this question…

So when presented with this week’s topic–10 all time favorites–I knew I’d have to break it down by genre. So I chose classics. And to make it easier on myself I only picked classics that have been around for over a hundred years. And I didn’t include poetry, though a few plays snuck in. They couldn’t help themselves. They really wanted to be on this list.

Here we go. These are in chronological order.

  • Don Quixote–Miguel de Cervantes (1605)

This book is great–it wasn’t an easy read in high school–but I love that it inspired it’s own adjective (quixotic) and that it talks about a man who believes his own fairy tales.

  • Much Ado About Nothing–William Shakespeare (first performed 1612)

This is my favorite Shakespeare play. Benedick and Beatrice are so witty–I think this is Shakespeare’s most humorous work.

  • Pride & Prejudice–Jane Austen (1813)

Can you even create a favorites list without this book?

  • Emma–Jane Austen (1815)

My favorite Austen work. I have no idea why it speaks to me more than P&P (I honestly identify more with Lizzie). I think it might be because I love Mr. Knightley more than Mr. Darcy. Also the matchmaking is priceless.

  • Jane Eyre–Charlotte Bronte (1847)

I only recently read this book, but it was everything I hoped it would be and now I have to read it again.

  • The Portrait of a Lady–Henry James (1881)

This book was recommended to me by a professor and she was spot on. This book is amazing with a heroine that is as naive and hopeful as she is intelligent.

  • One Thousand and One Nights–translated by Sir Richard Burton (1885)

These stories will always have a special place in my heart. I tend to collect different editions when I find them.

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray–Oscar Wilde (1890)

O Wilde! I will love you forever. Your wit, your charm, your imagination…

  • The Importance of Being Earnest–Oscar Wilde (1895)

Hands down one of the wittiest/silliest plays ever. It’s definitely more a product of its time than anything by Shakespeare, but it does its job so well. And it has the most quotable lines like “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.”

  • Pygmalion–George Bernard Shaw (1913)

Maybe it’s because I’ve seen My Fair Lady far too many times. But really I don’t see how anyone could not like this play. It reads really well, and I love the way it discloses its source material right in the title.


Did one of your favorites pop up here? Did I miss your favorite classic? Let me know in the comments!


Top Ten Tuesday: 5 of My Recent 5-Star Reads


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from The Broke and the Bookish.

I’m so sorry that I missed a week’s worth of posts–I had company visiting and Paul gifted me with a cold–everything sort of slipped by me. But this week I’m back in action.

The topic this week was to share ten of our most recent 5-star reads, but since I’ve shared most of those picks from last year, this post concentrates on 2016 books, especially the ones that aren’t a part of my challenges but are too good not to share.

So without further ado, here are my five most recent 5-star reads:

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher

The story of Star Wars in iambic pentameter. As a huge fan of both Shakespeare and Star Wars, I have to say that I enjoyed this book immensely. It is just so much fun, and it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do.

A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration by Meg Keene

Since becoming engaged about two months ago, I have been devouring wedding books. Of course, the intenet is an amazing resource for wedding related inspiration and advice, but I can’t help it—when there’s a book available I read it. I’m planning on doing a post on the best wedding books out there—putting my extensive reading to good use. But in the meantime—if you’re interested in wedding planning books or you know someone who is planning their wedding, this is probably the most practical and useful guide you can find.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I’ve had this book on my TBR for a good long while, and I was a little nervous that it wouldn’t live up to the hype, but it surpassed all my expectations. A wonderful story, beautifully told. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

A winner of the 2015 National Book Award, this book deserves every accolade that has or could be heaped upon it. It’s the story of one man’s experience with race and his hopes and fears for his son. It is illuminating and empowering—a short book that has so much to say.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

This book is a great mix of some of the best children’s fantasy series, but it is most definitely not geared towards children. It is enchanting (if you’ll pardon the pun) and it kept me guessing and looking forward to each new moment. I’m so glad that I picked it as one of my series for the year.


Has there been a book that has surprised you lately?


Shakespeare in the Park: Much Ado About Nothing in Nampa, Idaho


Community theater is an amazing thing. I absolutely love watching live theater and I also love Shakespeare, so I was definitely sold on the whole watch-Shakespeare-in-summer thing. Every in Boise there is the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. They were (and are, it’s still going) doing some great plays, but nothing that really stood out to me, and the tickets were quite expensive. So when I found this (free) performance of my favorite Shakespeare play, I leapt at the chance to go. Paul kindly consented to being dragged along.

Performed on Northwest Nazarene’s campus, this production was so much fun. It started with a little pre-show musical version of Hamlet where key plot points were set to songs from The Sound of Music. This was put on by a young group of thespians, who were all under 18.


The main show was set in Canada around the turn of the century. Don John, the villain, became Dona Joan. She made quite a dastardly plotter, and I quite enjoyed that particular take on the play.

I also loved the way they did the plot summary in the program with the little faces. Isn’t it adorable?

If you’re in or around Nampa next summer, I would definitely advise attending Shakespeare’s Garden as they have a lot of fun with the performance and it’s wonderful to sit outside and watch Shakespeare plays as it gets dark. They sell concessions to help make money for the performance (the homemade brownies we had were great!) and they take donations. It’s a family friendly event, so if you think your kids can sit through a Shakespeare play you should bring them along.

The first marriage scene in Much Ado. Hero is about to get spurned! Claudio is about to accuse her of not being a maid. Her dad is about to tell her he would rather she were dead than not a virgin. Hero is about to die. Beatrice is about to have Benedict challenge his best friend to a duel. Basically–it’s about to get real. But they look so happy for the moment.

Do you enjoy watching Shakespeare plays? Which is your favorite?