Cal Shakes Bookends its Season with Shakespearean Adaptations

(Jay Yamada, Photographer)
Cal Shakes Artistic Director Eric Ting and Managing Director Sarah Williams ready the Brums Amphitheatre.

    Although COVID-19 is still very much with us, it won’t stop California Shakespeare Theater from offering two world premiere Shakespearean adaptations, as well as many other events at the Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda this summer.
    “Anchored by two vital re-imaginings of iconic classics with beloved Cal Shakes artists familiar and new, this summer is sure to be a dynamic return to live performance under the stars,” said Artistic Director Eric Ting.
    It all begins with the world premiere of the bilingual Romeo y Juliet, May 25 – June 19.
    Adapted by playwright Karen Zacarías (Native Gardens, The Book Club Play, Destiny of Desire) and directed by KJ Sanchez, who recently completed a national tour of Quixote Nuevo, Cal Shakes’ 2018 hit, Romeo y Juliet was originally scheduled for Cal Shakes’ 2020 season.
    “I have been longing to work with Cal Shakes again, longing to make art again, longing to be back on that beautiful stage,” said Sanchez. “I’ve been a huge fan of Karen Zacarías for years and years. The fact that we get to play with a bilingual RYJ makes this production even more dear to my heart.”
    Zacarias’ adaptation intertwines Spanish and English throughout the play and sometimes within the same line.
    “It was important to both Karen and KJ not just to have a line in English and then one in Spanish, but to have them mixed throughout. They wanted to show the ways in which language represents class. From the workshop rehearsals I’ve attended, I know it is going to be really exciting,” said Ting.
    Set in the early 1800s, Romeo y Juliet takes place in Alta California when the Golden State was under Mexican rule. The young lovers will both be women.
    “I think it is very cool to have the lovers played by women,” Ting said. “California was on the cusp of transformation with all these strict religious rules about relationships and this feeds into the story and time period.”
    A jazz trio welcomes patrons to Cal Shakes’ closing show – a modern verse adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear (Sept. 7 – Oct. 2) infused with a jazz score. Adapted by Marcus Gardley, the show is directed by Ting and Aurora Theater Company Associate Artistic Director Dawn Monique Williams in partnership with Oakland Theater Project.
    “Our collaboration with other theater companies was inspired by our first season of Shared Light,” said Ting. “We wanted to create a resilient artistic community, and partnership with others is the way to go.”
    Set in San Francisco’s Fillmore District from the eminent domain crisis of the 1940s, when people of color were forced to leave their homes under the guise of urban renewal, to their subsequent displacement in the 1960s, Gardley’s “King Lear” looks at the legacy of wealth and inheritance and the generational divide.
    While the various concerts and special events have not been finalized yet, Ting said they will include Destiny Arts Center’s “Letters to the Present” (May 6 – 8), the aerial dance company Bandaloop and Good Medicine – a Night of Live Native Stand-Up.
    For more information on Cal Shakes, call 510.548.9666, e-mail or visit

Sally Hogarty can be reached at

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