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Identity Crisis

ae-3ironmask2Behind SSC’s ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’

Los Angeles-based actor Charles Pasternak describes his role in Scott Wentworth’s new play as schizophrenic. Not only does he play the part of King Louis XIV, but he also plays the part of Louis’ identical twin brother, Phillipe, the title character in “The Man in the Iron Mask.”

Adapted from part three of Alexandre Dumas’ “Three Musketeers” saga, “The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later,” the story tells the tale of the unknown royal son who has been imprisoned, his face hidden behind an iron mask, so that his brother’s claim to the throne would remain undisputed. When the swashbuckling Musketeers discover the identity of this unnamed prisoner (actually based on a historical figure who’s been fictionalized by Dumas to be the secret twin of King Louis XIV), they band together to plot the escape of Phillipe and dethrone King Louis.

Shakespeare Santa Cruz presents the world premiere of the stage adaptation of “The Man in the Iron Mask,” opening Saturday, July 28 at the Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen at UC Santa Cruz. The show will run through Aug. 26, in repertory with Shakespeare’s “Henry IV, Part 2” (Aug. 7-26).

Directed by John Sipes, “The Man in the Iron Mask” stars Pasternak, Kit Wilder, V. Craig Heidenreich, Dierk Torsek and Richard Ziman.

This is the third year that Pasternak has performed in Shakespeare Santa Cruz productions. He debuted with the company in 2008 with his role of Romeo and has since become a recognizable face at UCSC. Besides his twin roles in “The Man in the Iron Mask,” he will also play Prince Hal in “Henry IV, Part 2.”

“I’m very lucky,” the actor says over the telephone. “It’s a stunning, beautiful place to do Shakespeare. It’s one of the best theaters I’ve ever worked in.”

As far as the “Man in the Iron Mask” adaptation, he says, “What Scott (Wentworth) has done is quite impressive. He’s taken sections from Dumas’ massive book and focused on very specific human relationships that relate to today in terms of political turmoil.”

Amidst political unrest and daring adventure, the story is also universally relatable in that it deals with the central question of how a person’s identity is formed.

“I’m in the position of playing twin brothers who are in opposition to one another,” says Pasternak. “It’s not that Louis is evil and that Phillipe is all good. It’s not black and white. Phillipe has been a prisoner most his life. Louis came to a very rough childhood and upbringing, while two civil wars played in France. He came out of a relatively brutal childhood. As we see him in this play, he’s finally stepping into his own power.

“Phillipe doesn’t know what freedom is—he’s a happy drone, a sheep,” he continues. “In his first scene, he’s not unhappy. He doesn’t like that he has a mask welded on his face, but he’s never known anything else ... then he’s given an identity, an understanding of what time is, and freedom.”

Pasternak recites one of Phillipe’s lines, illustrating how once the character is given something to wait for, his new comprehension of time creates internal stress: “I was content—and then you gave me time. And it’s a torture.”

“Both Louis and Phillipe are stories of identity,” explains Pasternak. “But Phillipe’s comes from a completely unformed point. It’s the story of this dichotomy of these two opposing identities: Louis is fiercely ambitious; Phillipe is precisely the opposite. The irony is that they’re both in positions where, until we find them in the play, neither of them has had much control of their life.”

Asked about the process of entering these opposing worlds—in addition to rehearsing for his role as Prince Hal—Pasternak said, “It’s a mind fuck is what it is. But it’s also an actor’s dream. It’s an actor’s joy.”

The opportunity to work on Shakespeare, as well as original adaptations, is what has kept Pasternak coming back to Santa Cruz each summer.

“It’s an incredible thing that Shakespeare Santa Cruz and Marco (Barricelli) are doing in terms of putting out a world premiere,” he says. “It can be risky in this [economic] climate. What I really respect about Shakespeare Santa Cruz is that it is not a ‘Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits’ company. This is a wonderful risk, and I hope the community can enjoy it—both for what it is, and for what the group is trying to do. I love being a part of it.” 


“The Man in the Iron Mask” runs July 28-Aug. 26 at the Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen at UCSC, 1156 High St., Santa Cruz. $30-$50. $14/under 18. Visit shakespearesantacruz.org or call 459-2159. Photo Credit: RR Jones

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