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The Lion’s Ready To Roar

AE-1The curtain finally rises for Shakespeare Santa Cruz
When Marco Barricelli took over as artistic director of Shakespeare Santa Cruz for Paul Whitworth in 2008, theatergoers lined up to find out what the Julliard School graduate and American Conservatory Theatre veteran had up his sleeve. But while we’ve witnessed the festival’s transformation under his directing leadership, we have yet to see the world-renowned thespian be given the opportunity to embrace his first love: acting. Fortunately, that two-year drought ends on July 20, with James Goldman’s “The Lion in Winter.”

“This is a play I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” says Barricelli, who will star as King Henry II, aside from his artistic director duties. The piece, directed by Richard E.T. White who did “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” last season, is the token family drama depicting the marital woes of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Though set in 12th century Europe, the domestic battle over which of their three sons will be the next king, has enough modern day themes to pilot a reality television show.

“It’s about squabbling families beating each other to the punch,” says Barricelli. “And the language is just dazzling—full of one-liners that you’ll remember long after you leave the theater.”

Look out Real Housewives of Orange County, there’s a new dysfunctional family in town. With infidelity, sibling rivalry and an old married couple trapped in a power struggle, “The Lion in Winter” is an excellent Shakespeare alternative for 21st century viewers with “To be, or not to be” phobias.  “It’s a funny play,” says Barricelli. “And the language is very accessible—I know it’s something that people will understand.”

While he is thrilled to have the chance to act in the play—a dream that he and co-star Kandis Chappell of San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre fame have had for years—his transition back on to the stage has not be an easy one. Though his predecessor Whitworth was acting as well as directing in every season of the festival prior to his retirement in 2007, personal reasons and the collapse of the economy have prevented Barricelli from starring.

AE-2“There is an interesting parallel between Marco and Henry,” says White. “Henry is a castle and everyone else is laying siege to him, a story which echoes Marco’s daily life as any other artistic director in 2010—he’s under siege by the economy, the need to bring in ticketholders that are the life blood of the theater, and he still has to learn his lines.”

Now that Barricelli’s role at the festival includes acting and directing, he has a great deal more on his plate. “It’s a lot to split between running the theater as a producer and this large role,” says Barricelli. “I’ve been unable to see the rehearsals of the other plays because of acting, which is very unusual for me—I’m very hands on.”

Despite his limited amount of time to oversee the development of the other two productions in the 29th season line-up, “Love’s Labor’s Lost” and “Othello,” he is confident that both directors—Scott Wentworth (Nick Bottom in 2009’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Brutus in “Julius Caesar”) and Pam MacKinnon, respectively—will make this year’s festival a must-see.

“The Lion in Winter” itself boasts an all-star production team with set design by Emmy-award winner John Iacovelli, period costumes by festival veteran B. Modern and an original score by American Conservatory Theatre composer Bonfire Madigan Shive.

“It consumes a lot of time,” says Barricelli, whose schedule is now booked with rehearsals leading up to the play’s opening. “But I’m looking forward to it—we’ve got a great cast.”

Though Barricelli has spent the majority of his career, which spans from Broadway, to Italy, to the set of L.A. Law, dreaming of playing a young King Henry II in Jean Anouilh’s Tony-award winning “Beckett,” as he matured, so did his desire to play the middle-aged version.

“Sometimes as an actor, you read a play and something grabs you—whether it’s the acting, the language, or if it relates to your life,” he says. “As I’ve grown up, I can relate more to the older version of Henry in this play.”

While it does not seem like it would be easy to take on the role of the most important ruler in British history up until that point, White believes that he could not have found a better man for the job than Barricelli. “Henry is a complicated figure dealing with the ambivalence of family relations,” says White. “It requires an actor like Marco who, complex himself, has the acting chops to play anyone from Hamlet to Stanley Kowalski and has an innate sense of physical and vocal authority.”

Luckily, for those of us who can handle only so much political intrigue, Barricelli’s decision to put on “The Lion in Winter” over “Beckett,” means that theatergoers will get a hearty spoonful of comic relief before plunging into the tragic depths of season book-end “Othello.”

“I was looking for something that we could do at a relatively small cost, that would be good for our budget and could sit comfortably among the other Shakespeare plays,” says Barricelli. “This one’s fun because even though it’s in the guise of a play about Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry, the characters really pop off the stage.”


For more information about the upcoming season and for ticket prices, visit Shakespearesantacruz.com.
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