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!

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?