Tulane University launches the 22nd season of the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival on Saturday, June 13, with a work that’s one of the Bard’s lesser-known but as full of intrigue and poetry as any.
“ ‘Cymbeline’ is an extraordinary play even by Shakespeare’s standards,” said visiting director Rob Clare, a world-renowned expert in Shakespeare and former staff director at the U.K.’s National Theatre. “It’s full of exciting stories, one that spans more than 20 years, and it contains a great secret, a secret that comes to bear on many of the characters’ futures.”
The other two works planned for the season are Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” and “Incarnate,” a collaboration of choreography, writing, music and movement whose dialogue comes entirely from the sonnets and plays of Shakespeare.
Shakespeare wrote 37 plays, and of those about 25 are generally performed, said Chaney Tullos, director of operations. As New Orleans’ only classic theater venue, the festival generally stages at most two Shakespeare plays, leaving room for experimentation and diversity, he said.
The original version of “Cymbeline” is four hours long, Tullos said. The version that Tulane is staging runs about two hours and 15 minutes.
Tullos said the theater was looking for a play it hadn’t performed before, and the twisted tale of the King of Britain, his daughter, long-lost sons, secret love, mistaken identity and treachery was a story he’d longed to stage.
The cast includes Greg Barber, Silas Cooper, Christopher Kelly, Liann Pattison and James Wright, among others.
“Shakespeare was not only ahead of his time, he is ahead of our time,” said Clare. “He understands humanity, and the compassion that underpins all of his characters makes him so modern. Long after we are gone, his work will still resonate with future generations.”
Next up for the festival, from July 11-25, is “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Directed by Jessica Podewell, it features, among others, NOLA Project’s James Bartelle and the festival’s managing director and veteran actress, Claire Moncrief.
The witty comedy is a classic with lively, clever dialogue that demands strong actors, Tullos said.
The final work of the season, July 15-22, is “Incarnate,” a collaboration among composers, conductors, musicians, actors and dancers, Tullos said. Shakespeare’s sonnets and poetry are the only dialogue.
“This season our main goal was to provide high-caliber shows by pairing local talent with internationally known artists and I believe we’ve more than met our goal,” said Tullos.