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Review: Shakespeare under the stars returns to UCI with ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘The Winter’s Tale’

UC Irvine’s New Swan Shakespeare Festival is gearing up for its fourth season.
UC Irvine’s New Swan Shakespeare Festival is gearing up for its seventh season.
(Photo Illustration by Paul R. Kennedy)

It’s now July, and that means the start of a breather period for most theatrical-producing organizations — but definitely not UC Irvine, where the New Swan Theater recently launched its seventh mini-season previews.

Every summer since 2012, the New Swan has assembled a 15-ton portable showplace, modeled after the Globe Theatre from Shakespeare’s time, where two of the Bard’s works are mounted and performed in repertory. This year’s attractions are “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Winter’s Tale.”

The events are housed in a portable theater built from recycled materials and designed and constructed by the in-house faculty and staff of the UC Irvine Claire Trevor School of the Arts. It’s composed of 15 modular units, each weighing a ton, and is constructed from the ground up every year.

The event is the brainchild of Eli Simon, artistic director of the New Swan Shakespeare Festival who’s marking his 30th year on the UCI faculty. He’s directing “Midsummer” in its second New Swan incarnation and also has staged “The Merchant of Venice,” “King Lear,” “Twelfth Night,” “Macbeth” and “As You Like It” under the Irvine stars.

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Simon, this publication’s man of the year in theater for 2017, has directed over 100 productions at major Shakespearean festivals, regional theaters and international theaters. He’s also a specialist in the art of clowning on stage.

“The Winter’s Tale” is being directed by Beth Lopes, a founding New Swan company member and associate artistic director of the festival. Her directing credits with the UCI troupe include “The Comedy of Errors,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” Hamlet,” “The Taming of the Shrew” and the first “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Professional actors work alongside students in the annual summer festivities, which have hosted homeless families and at-risk youth organizations. Performances usually are sold out — 5,642 people attended both shows in 2017 when “The Tempest” and “The Taming of the Shrew” played to 100% of capacity.

Following a week of previews, “Midsummer” opens July 13 followed by “Winter’s Tale” the next day. The productions will be staged alternatively throughout July and August.

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The festival will honor Blaze Bernstein, a Lake Forest college student who was stabbed to death in January, with a free performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at 8 p.m. Aug. 21 for students of the Orange County School of the Arts.

Additional information and reservations for the plays may be obtained by contacting the UCI box office at (949) 824-2787 or by emailing artstix@uci.edu.

Tom Titus reviews local theater.


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