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Ask the Expert: Philippa Kelly

Show notes from Cal Shakes’ resident dramaturg.


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Courtesy of California Shakespeare Theater

From Australia / Lives Berkeley / Books 10

If you’re headed to California Shakespeare Theater’s summer performances, be sure to arrive early for the East Bay’s savviest warm-up act: Philippa Kelly.

Kelly, the company’s resident dramaturg, gives talks in the Grove, just outside the Bruns Amphitheater, 45 minutes before the curtain rises. A UC Berkeley drama professor, Kelly has written three books about Shakespeare, and her chats are like a graduate-level crash course in theater history.

We asked Kelly for talking points on the plays selected for the 40th season.

A Raisin in the Sun (through June 15): “Lorraine Hansberry was just 27 when she wrote this play. She died at age 34—but what a contribution to American theater. Her play was first staged in 1959, on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement.”

The Comedy of Errors (June 25–July 20): “This is one of two Shakespeare plays featuring twins. ... I think that the theme enabled him to make his first forays into a kind of philosophical underpinning that would mark so many of his plays: The theme of mistaken identity gave him the tools by which to speculate on the very notion of what makes two individuals live and think and count themselves as one.”

Pygmalion (July 30–August 24): “[George Bernard Shaw] was imbued with a belief in equality for women and socialist ethics. His plays were a revolutionary departure from the light Victorian comedies that were fashionable at the time.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (September 3–28): “Shakespeare wrote this just after Romeo and Juliet, which started as a comedy and veered into tragedy. A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes the opposite structure, as it becomes a comedy. It is also some of his most beautiful writing.” calshakes.org.

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