The king and queen, happy in love right before everything goes sour.
Artistic Director Barry Edelstein’s welcome letter for the Globe For All’s production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale explains that “The Old Globe’s goal is to make theater matter to more people. We want this play, and this live performance, to add something meaningful to your life.” To that end, every artist biography in the program ends with, “Theater matters because…” Many of the entries point to some virtuous outcome: “Great stories break down barriers and bring people together.” “It changes hearts.” “It helps us live an examined life of change and growth.” (I was struck by actor Jared Van Heel’s “It is the most immediate way we can share what it is to be human,” which gets at theater’s particular virtue — as opposed to more removed media such as movies and TV — and actress Morgan Taylor’s “The stories we tell shape our identity and our world,” which seems more value-neutral and accurate than promises of changed hearts and broken barriers.)
Also to that end, the production has been touring the county, staging free performances in libraries, churches, community centers, prisons, and, on Sunday, the El Cajon Valley School District’s meeting room. (There will be two low-cost performances at the Globe’s Lowell Davies Festival theater this Sunday.) Before the show, attendees were invited to fill their plates from a buffet spread provided by the nearby Al Azayem restaurant, and then to take part in a forgiveness activity designed to highlight the play’s theme. Arts Engagement Program Manager Laura Zablit prepared the audience, which included some 25 kids and teens, by asking about the languages they spoke: Spanish, Arabic, Chaldean, Pashto, Urdu, Swahili… “There’s another language that we’re going to have in this room tonight,” she continued, “the language of Shakespeare. The English language was different 400 years ago, but there’s one word that goes across time and across space, and that comes up in Shakespeare a whole lot: ‘O.’ And the actors put emotion into it. Emotions don’t change over time and space, and that’s part of what can make Shakespeare relevant.”
She asked the audience to join in by saying “O” in the manner of a disappointed child, a happy lover, etc. She also asked them to practice for their role as the play’s famous and ravenous bear.
The Winter’s Tale is a fine taste-of-Shakespeare play. It offers a little of everything: romance, tragedy, madness, gravitas, comedy, drama, and the aforementioned bear. And despite the steady white glare of the overhead lights and the occasionally stretched cast — several actors took on multiple roles, and almost invariably had a better handle on some than others — the production managed to create the transporting immediacy of theater from a minimum of elements. An offstage violin and drum for mood, group exhalations for the raging of a storm, a top hat atop a knit cap for an indication of borrowed sophistication. And the actors, especially the leads. (If I had been running the tour, I would have asked attendees to consider how it was that Carlos Angel-Barajas made King Leontes’ mad jealousy both terrifying and absurd, and how Sofia Jean Gomez’s Queen Hermione remained commanding and regal even as everything was stripped from her.)
The play was truncated to an hour and forty-five minutes, though even that proved too much for some of the younger viewers. One boy started texting after intermission. Two girls got into a spirited game of Rochambeau. But immediacy has its virtues: when a reunion near the play’s end brought tears from one of the players, the alarmed observation “She’s crying!” erupted from the little girl seated beside me. “It’s pretend,” explained her sister, her tone both reassuring and didactic.
After the show, the actors fielded questions from the kids. Asked, “How nervous were you?” actor Anthony Green replied, “I don’t trust people who aren’t nervous. You don’t want it to control you, but it’s good to have that energy and focus.” Asked where she learned to act, Yadira Correa burst forth with, “School! Lots and lots of school!” Angel-Barajas followed that with an appeal to parents: “Theater programs in your school are not just for the people on stage. It’s a great way to be part of a group, even if you’re not drawn to acting. When you’re designing sets and costumes, you have to know history. When you’re doing sound design, you have to know physics. They may not go into theater, but they’ll learn to apply the things they’re learning in class.”
Before departing, attendees were asked to fill out a survey. Did you enjoy today’s performance? Did the performance help you better understand other people’s experiences? How much does The Old Globe matter to your community? What is one thing you would change about this performance program? And also to consider participating in what program manager Zablit called “the biggest production we’ve ever done. Over the next two years, we’re welcoming all San Diegans to contribute to it, whether by acting or costuming or marketing... We all live in San Diego; we all share this home, and we want to have it reflected in the production.”