When UC Irvine began operations back in 1965, one of the drama department’s visions was an annual outdoor Shakespeare festival similar to the one Joseph Papp had founded in New York City.
It took a few years — nay, a few decades — but that dream finally was realized in 2012 with the birth of the New Swan Theater on the UCI campus. For five sold-out seasons, the festival has produced two Shakespearean plays in rotating repertory under the stars.
Here, students and professional actors work together to create, in the words of its founding director Eli Simon, “dynamic productions in a unique space.” Last summer, 5,327 playgoers attended presentations of “As You Like It” and “Hamlet.” That, incidentally, represents 98% of capacity.
This year, the New Swan will offer “The Tempest,” directed by Simon, and “The Taming of the Shrew,” under the direction of Beth Lopes, a founding company member and associate director of the festival.
Both directors know their way around the festival. Simon previously staged “The Merchant of Venice,” “King Lear,” “Twelfth Night,” “Macbeth” and “As You Like It,” while Lopes was in charge for “The Comedy of Errors,” “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Hamlet.”
“The Tempest” will open the UCI festival July 6, followed the next evening by “Shrew,” with the two plays alternating in performance through Sept. 2 in a 15-ton, portable mini-Elizabethan theater.
While the plays will switch off, some of the the actors will stay put, just changing their costumes. Greg Ungar will play Prospero in “Tempest” and Baptisa in “Shrew”; Grace Morrison is Katherine in “Shrew” and Antonia in “Tempest”'; Ryan Imhoff is “Shrew's” Petruchio and “Tempest's” Trinculo, and DeShawn Harold Mitchell is Lucentio in “Shrew” and Sebastian in “Tempest.”
“The community, campus and press have embraced the festival,” Simon declared. “We have hosted a wide range of guests, from homeless families and at-risk youth to some of Orange County's top corporations.
“This season, we will welcome audiences once again to our magical theater in the round to experience two of Shakespeare’s greatest plays.”
For further information on the festival, prospective audience members are urged to call the box office at (949) 824-2787 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater.