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SCSF puts modern twist on ‘Comedy of Errors’

COE Cast

What happens when Antipholus meets Antipholus and Dromio meets Dromio?

The pairs look alike, so it must mean that these are sets of twins, correct?

That is exactly the case. In William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors,” a Syracusan man and his servant run into their twin brothers in the Greek city of Ephesus. When friends and families of the twins in Ephesus mistake them for the Syracuse pair, a series of wild mishaps lead to all manner of dubious outcomes – including unjust beatings, near-seduction and arrests.

The Shakespearean comedy will play out on stage this September at the Cal Poly Pomona Studio Theatre, courtesy of The Southern California Shakespeare Festival (SCSF) – a program run by Cal Poly Pomona Department of Theatre and New Dance faculty member Linda Bisesti.

Bisesti, the festival’s founder and artistic director, says that for its 13th season, SCSF will be making some modern adjustments to one of the Bard’s earliest works that will put a fresh coat of paint on a play more than 400 years old.

Taking an already bizarre story over the top, the city of Ephesus becomes Venice Beach and Syracuse changed to San Diego. The carnival-like nature of Venice Beach will be played up with a pre-show performance of circus acts that will bleed into the main performance.

Bisesti said much of the play’s reimagining stems from director Sam Robinson, who will also invert genders of the characters to place women in men’s positions, and vice versa. Antipholus becomes Anna-Maria, and Dromio becomes Darian.

“The roles are gender-bended, so the husband and wife’s roles get reexamined in terms of gendering,” Bisesti says. “Part of my belief is that Shakespeare is gender-blind and colorblind. The Elizabethans did Shakespeare with all men, and now it’s time to do it with all sorts of different people and changing their roles.”

Under the umbrella of the Cal Poly Pomona Department of Theatre and New Dance, Bisesti says part of SCSF’s main goal is to provide students an opportunity to perform and work with Shakespeare’s plays.

This season’s performance includes a cast and crew of nearly 30 current Cal Poly Pomona students and alumni. Bisesti says it’s important for young actors to get a handle on Shakespeare, and helping them accomplish that was one reason why she founded SCSF in 2004.

“You really can’t train actors without good classical work, so I’m committed to providing them with that as the artistic director,” Bisesti says. “Language is one of the most important things you can train young actors in, and the really wonderful actors have all been trained in language and they know how to do Shakespeare.”

Teaching students to understand Shakespeare is no small labor, either.

“The language is 450 years old, so you have to make the actors walk up to it and you can’t dumb it down,” Bisesti says. “Actors have to actually understand the form of rhetoric Shakespeare is using, and it’s their job to persuade the viewer to the point of view of the character.”

Cal Poly Pomona theatre student Kaitlyn Tice played Petruchio in the Department of Theatre and New Dance’s 2016 production of “Taming of the Shrew,” but will perform during “The Comedy of Errors” preshow and handle things more on the production side of SCSF this season.

“One of the reasons I decided to come to Cal Poly Pomona is because of the Southern California Shakespeare Festival,” she says. “I’m a huge proponent of Shakespeare, and I think this production of ‘Comedy of Errors’ is an interesting take on how well you really know your partners and know yourself.”

Cara Vilencia, who will play the courtesan in this season’s production, says she feels the modern edits that Robinson and Bisesti are making to “The Comedy of Errors” will appeal to a wider variety of attendees.

“I think it’s cool we’re doing something more modern because it will help bring in a current audience to see what we’re doing on stage,” she says, “and it helps them understand what’s going on because a lot of people don’t speak Shakespearean language.”

All in all, Bisesti says people should consider seeing “The Comedy of Errors” if they appreciate Shakespeare and a hearty laugh.

“It’s a fun, frivolous and ridiculous comedy about mistaken identity, people who behave badly and get caught,” she says. “It’s somewhat farcical and probably more so than other Shakespeare plays, so I think that element in and of itself will be celebrated in this production.”

“The Comedy of Errors” opens at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7 at the Cal Poly Pomona Studio Theatre. The production continues its run at Cal Poly Pomona at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 23, 29, 30 and Oct. 6-7. Matinee shows are at 2 p.m. on Sept. 24, Oct. 1 and 8.

SCSF will also perform the play at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 9 at the School of Arts and Enterprise in Downtown Pomona.

Tickets are $20 general admission and $15 for students, staff and senior citizens.

For more information about performances or tickets, visit

How Shakespeare Festival draws on L.A., drought, desert

As You Like It

The Southern California Shakespeare Festival presents “As You Like It” in September in Pomona and Pasadena. From left to right, Andrew Wilson (Touchstone), Linda Bisesti (Eve), Sam Robinson (Jacques), Marissa Pitts (Celia), Natalie Roy (Rosalind), William Dinwiddie (Duke Senior), Alejandro Jimenez (Orlando). (Courtesy photo)

As You like It

When: 8 p.m. Sept. 8 (preview), Sept. 24 (gala), Sept. 30, Oct. 1, Oct. 7-8 and 2 p.m. Sept. 25, Oct. 2, Oct. 9 at Cal Poly Pomona; 7 p.m. Sept. 10 and 2 p.m. Sept. 11 at The School of Arts and Enterprise; 7 p.m. Sept. 16-17 in Pasadena.

Where: Studio Theatre at Cal Poly Pomona, 3801 W. Temple Ave., Building 25 Room 110, Pomona; The School of Arts and Enterprise, 295 N. Garey Ave., Pomona; Mayfield Senior School, 500 Bellefontaine St., Pasadena.

Tickets: $20; $15, seniors/students/Cal Poly faculty and staff.

Information: 909-869-3800,

For its 12th season, the Southern California Shakespeare Festival is presenting “As You Like It,” and local audiences may find its setting feels very familiar.

The production, which will be put on at Cal Poly Pomona, The School of Arts and Enterprise in Pomona and Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena, does not set the action in a forest.

“I lived in L.A. for 10 years,” said festival guest director Stephanie Courtney. “There is no forest near L.A. And the Angeles National Forest has more dead bodies in it than trees. I thought, what is the surrounding area of L.A. and what is the most natural, most dangerous place in L.A.? And it’s the desert. Add to that, what is the subversive culture? And we hit on Burning Man.

“I’m setting it during a drought,” Courtney adds. “Obviously, that’s very pertinent to California.”

“As You Like It” will begin its local run Sept. 8 with a preview performance at Cal Poly Pomona; it will continue at Cal Poly, with additional performances at Pomona’s School of Arts and Enterprise and Pasadena’s Mayfield Senior School, through Oct. 9.

A professional Actors Equity Association company in residence at Cal Poly Pomona, the Southern California Shakespeare Festival uses guest AEA actors, student actors and designers from the department of theater and new dance at Cal Poly Pomona.

The decision to mount “As You Like It” for this year’s festival came about because the festival wanted something “lighter” than last year’s production of “Macbeth.”

“We were going to do a tragedy first, but it wasn’t a great choice after doing a tragedy last year with “Macbeth,” said Linda Bisesti, who founded the festival. “I have a board of directors and students from Cal Poly and quite a few professional actors. They help make the decisions too, and they said, ‘Lets do a comedy.’” 

Bisesti, who is the head of acting in the Bachelor of Arts Theatre Arts program at Cal Poly Pomona, said Courtney is a “really outstanding theater artist.” “Years ago, she was one of my students in another CSU,” said Bisesti, who also appears in the production. “She’s quite a powerhouse.”

Actor Sam Johnson has been involved with the festival for the past five years as a director of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and an actor in “Macbeth” last year. This year he portrays Jacques, a character who delivers a very famous phrase.

“This role has been performed for 400 years,” Johnson said. “I get to speak the ‘all the world is a stage’ speech. Even out of context, it’s one of the most famous speeches there is. And to investigate the character and investigate the speech with fresh eyes ... Jacques is said to be melancholy by many characters. But what does that mean? You can’t play a character as melancholy or sad. So that’s been really interesting to investigate and flesh out the characters with many emotions with melancholy just one of them.”

Johnson said the festival is multigenerational with “people who are experiencing working on Shakespeare not necessarily for their first time, but one of their first times, as well as people who have worked on Shakespeare for many years. Shakespeare stories contain universal characters and universal themes.” 

Phil Miller, executive producer of the School of Arts and Enterprise in Pomona, said his school supported the festival last year and continues to for a number of reasons, including the fact that it offers his students a look at the college experience.

“They notice their professionalism,” Miller said. “That’s powerful for us. It’s great to bring in an instructor from the festival and have that support. In our theater department and school, we produce 24 annual productions school-wide. It’s one of the largest in the state of California, if not the largest. It’s a great partnership to have at the school across the board.”

Miller said he looked forward to seeing “As You Like It,” because the festival is “willing to take risks and find unique ways to tell the story. Looking at the set design and talking to the director, I’m excited for our kids.”


Macbeth 2015
Annie Dennis (l.), Linda Bisesti,Christine Menzies - the witches of SCSF "Macbeth"



The Southern California Shakespeare Festival (SCSF), in residence at Cal Poly Pomona (CPP)’s Studio Theatre, is presenting William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” until Oct. 4, 2015. The play is directed by this year’s SCSF’s guest director, David Fox, who is regularly a professor of theatre at Massachusetts’ Wheaton College.

One of The Bard’s great tragedies, “Macbeth” tells the story of a man who, feeling quite reassured by superhuman voices (three witches), allows his ambition to get the best of him, only to his demise. Some of Shakespeare’s greatest lines are part of this play.

At SCSF, the major roles are performed by professional actors. They include CPP’s alumni and professors at this school and other Los Angeles’ universities. Secondary characters are played by student actors. The combination contributes to a diverse and multi-cultured cast.

Macbeth is performed by Robert Shields, a CPP graduate who does well portraying a successful soldier that in front of the audience devolves into a crazed murderer. Another CPP alumnus, Daniella Tarankow, does well as a pushy Lady Macbeth that uses her sensual charms to encourage her husband to treason. Two supporting actors do a particularly fine job – Jasmine Mosebar, currently a CPP senior, is as Hecate every bit as scary as a ruler of witches should be, projecting a strong voice and a wild manner. On the other hand, current graduate student at CSULA Marissa Pitts, as Lady MacDuff, delivers the most believable (horrifying) death in this play, which has many.

This production sets “Macbeth” in an ambiguous war time period, in modern dress. There are a couple of interesting props, like a witches’ pot that seems to really brew, and a decapitated head in a sac inside of which you can devise an open eye.

While it is generally easier to deal with a comedy than a tragedy, “Macbeth” at SCFS is engaging, keeping the crowd interested and alert.

Studio Theatre is an intimate space, with the action happening only a few feet away from you. The play is just over two hours long, with a 15-minute intermission.


Julius Cesar

Friends, readers, enthusiasts, lend me your eyes; more so, lend me an open mind. For only so often is Shakespeare represented more accurately in spirit than in form and when it is so done, one must take notice and treasure it the way it deserves be treasured. This rendition of Julius Caesar presented during the tenth anniversary of the Southern California Shakespeare Festival at Cal Poly Pomona is not a mirror to Shakespeare’s work, but an extension of it. The first subtle difference is the modern attire. The Roman Senators much more resembled modern American Senators with full suits, complete with briefcases. The second, and entirely more shocking yet no more important, is that Caesar is portrayed by The Head of Acting at Cal Poly Pomona: Linda Biseti--a woman. A point to which we will shortly and surely return. And lastly, scenes have been cut and Caesar herself dies three times. Before any of that though, a sincere and astounding mention must be made of Matthew Reidy who plays Cassius. My Lord I have never seen such an impassioned and wonderful performance by any actor of any Shakespeare character less Kenneth Branagh. As Brutus is pure, Cassius is opportune, and at no point does Reidy let on to Brutus his intentions, but even a novice audience goer can keep up with this performance that Reidy has laid out. This should not be to take away from Cal Poly alumnus Robert Shields’ performance of Marcus Brutus. His stoic tension and inner-conflict make the audience, who encircle the entire floor level stage, stand on the edge of their seats, yes, even those of us who know what happens at the end. The two do not share the stage in their many scenes together, no, instead they explode the entire idea of a stage and the interaction is happening real time in your mind as the treacherous Cassius manipulates the true intention and honest ideology of Brutus.

Julius Cesar

Once Brutus has been co-opted by the antagonist the plot slips quickly into chaos as the self-serving senators who act as the conspirators, interests are peaked by the potential for wealth and power quickly line up with Brutus and Cassius. Hereafter Caesar herself, and not her significant other, has a dream that she will be assassinated on the Senate floor. Now, I myself was wondering, when the play started and I saw a female as Caesar, how they would tackle this issue. Would it be a husband? Or an aide? But I think they did a wonderful job. The question, or rather the challenge I pose to you is this: is this a sign of women rising through the ranks in a gesture of solidarity with the modern feminist movement, or is this a highlight of the equal corruptibility of women as compared to the already corrupted system of misogyny in society? I do not expect you to have a black and white decision on this by the end of the play. In fact, I doubt that you will be able to articulate a clear opinion on this after the play without stuttering and changing your mind at least once; don’t worry; the stutter comes with a smile. The modern attire of the senators is an equally intriguing endeavor. It is not to be misconstrued as a simple modernizing of the script. It is not some parlor trick to be found relatable to a younger audience who may not have much experience with Shakespeare. Instead, it can be considered a bit of a Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner twist. Their point is that this type of greed in governance still exists. Further, that is always has, and always will, exist. As Brutus stays his course for the good of Rome and the free man, he only serves the cause of men as greedy as Caesar. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and Brutus’ good intentions pave the road with gold. He is almost a stand in for the proletariat, or either political party’s base, whose opinion is often corralled by those with ulterior motives whom they trust. If you have seen and are familiar with the play of Julius Caesar, go see this performance. If you have never before been introduced to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, go see this play. It is an awesome opportunity for you to become antiquated in a personal and professional environment. Further, if you are not even familiar with Shakespeare’s works at all, then this is a must see. I cannot think of a better performance onto which to begin your Shakespeare journey. The play runs Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. through October 5th at Cal Poly Pomona’s Studio Theatre. Tickets are $15 and parking is $3.

Richard III at Cal Poly Pomona - August 14, 2011

Katrinka Wolfson and Lisa Wolpe perform in Richard III

Lisa Wolpe as Richard III and Katrinka Wolfson as Lady Anne in The Southern California Shakespeare Festival presentation of Richard III at Cal Poly Pomona on August 14, 2011.

» Read the full review by Sharon Perlmutter

"Passing Strange" Book by Ayanna Thompson

Passing Strange book by Ayanna Thompson

Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America by Shakespeare scholar Ayanna Thompson features the Twelfth Night production of SCSF season 4 on it's cover.  

SCSF is written about in Professor Thompson's book specifically with regard to its multicultural company presence  and its impact in the surrounding community.

Professor Thompon's book was published by Oxford  University Press in 2011.