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English? Maybe not, but they all speak Shakespeare

October 09, 2006|Lynne Heffley

Cutting-edge theater companies from Bulgaria, Poland and the Czech Republic, seldom seen in the United States, will headline the Lit Moon World Shakespeare Festival, which begins Thursday in Santa Barbara.

The first-time event is the latest in Lit Moon's series of festivals that began in 1992 with a focus on nontraditional "fringe" theater groups and expanded in 1998 to include international performing artists.

"I was looking for a new direction to take the festival in," said John Blondell, Lit Moon's artistic director. A trip to the 2004 Shakespearean Festival in Gdansk, Poland, with his company's production of "Hamlet," provided it. "I fell in love with the idea of using Shakespeare as the lingua franca to talk about the contemporary human condition, and at the same time explore the great theatricality and vibrancy of these plays."

Two years in the planning, the new festival has expanded from previous years, playing 11 days at six venues rather than one, and featuring seven companies from five countries.

On the bill: the Bulgarian National Theatre's movement-based "Romeo and Juliet," played by six men; Teatr Modjeska of Poland in "Othello"; Montreal's Canis Tempus, with a mask version of "Juliet & Romeo"; "As You Like It" from Bulgaria's State Puppet Theatre; and Teatr Antonie-Kalis of Prague in "That (Famous Scottish) Play."

Blondell will direct "The Tempest," "Hamlet" and "King Richard II," with Westmont College students, faculty and Lit Moon professionals. The festival will also feature "Rogue," a new "Hamlet"-related piece by Eric Ehn; and Theatre Artists Group's "Timon of Athens," with Irwin Appel in the title role.

Ancillary music performances, art displays and panel discussions include an exhibition of representative works by designers of the plays in the festival; and "Shakespeare and Globalized Performance," a free keynote address by Dennis Kennedy, the Samuel Beckett professor of theater at Dublin's Trinity College. Kennedy will explore the implications of the global dissemination of Shakespeare's work, including issues of translation.

Blondell hopes this new incarnation of the festival will become a biannual event. His plans for 2008 include groups from Lithuania, Mexico and China.

His reasons are cultural as well as artistic, he said, "in terms of building bridges toward mutual understanding, breaking down barriers between language and culture and finding ways that we can talk to one another in the early 21st century."

Festival information: www.lobero.com.

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-- Lynne Heffley

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