In Earnestby Brie Stimson December 4, 2017
Right now creative director for the Old Globe, Barry Edelstein, is fully immersed in preparations for the 20th anniversary of “Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” which is a San Diego institution, according to probably anyone who lives in our fair town. The holiday classic features a new actor, Edward Watts, in the role of the Grinch. Watts hails from Broadway and has also been on shows such as “The Sopranos” and “Quantico.”
“[He’s] really spectacular,” Edelstein says, “with maybe the best voice who has sung the role certainly in the five years I’ve been here. And a wonderful actor, a wonderful charismatic big guy.”
As well as the community tree lighting, the Globe will also offer a special needs “sensory friendly” version of “The Grinch” for children and adults on the autism spectrum or who have other special needs.
“We expect something on the order of 30,000 plus people to come through and see [The Grinch],” Edelstein says. “It’s just such a San Diego institution and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.” The Grinch runs through Dec. 24.
I had the chance to speak to Edelstein in a rare quiet moment for the artistic director, director and sometimes actor in his pleasantly sunny second floor office looking out at the greenery of Balboa Park. His shelves are filled with the paraphernalia of an accomplished theater man: books with obscure titles, a congratulations note saying “you did it again!’ from pal Steve Martin and even a photo of Edelstein with President Jimmy Carter.
After the New Year, the season kicks off “in earnest” as Edelstein says with no pun intended. On the main stage, Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest,” “arguably the funniest play ever written in the English language,” as far as Edelstein’s is concerned, will open in January with director Maria Aitken at the helm. Aitken is possibly best known as Wendy in “A Fish Called Wanda.” “But later in her career she has became a very noted director of high comedy,” Edelstein explains. It’s a niche market and she’s incredibly good at it, so plays by Oscar Wilde, plays by Shaw, by Noel Coward, plays by Moliere and people like that she’s uncommonly good at.”
Just after “The Importance of Being Earnest,” “Uncle Vanya” will open in February on the White Stage. One of Chekov’s four giant achievements, as Edelstein puts it, the eminent Russian work about a man and his niece struggling to care for a relative’s estate, will premiere a new English translation by two of the most celebrated Russian literature translators in the industry: Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
Their collaborations have won them the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize for Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov.” Their translation of Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot” also won the first Efim Etkind Translation Prize.
“To have the Pevears premiere their latest English language translation of a Russian classic here in San Diego, it’s a pretty big deal. Plus it’s just such a great play, so we’ll have Oscar Wilde in the Globe and Chekov in the White, which I think is just such a wonderful thing. The kind of thing only a great regional theatre can do at the same time,” Edelstein says.
After “The Importance of Being Earnest” closes on the Globe stage March 4, the world premiere of “American Mariachi” will open on March 23. “It’s the first time in a while that Latino culture and specifically Chicano culture has been center stage at the Old Globe and we’re really looking forward to that,” Edelstein says. The story takes place in a nameless southwestern town in the 1970s where a young girl dreams of entering the exclusively male world of Mariachi music. “And so it’s a story of a ragtag group of girls that get a band together against all obstacles and end up performing mariachi music,” he explains.
Edelstein will direct “The Wanderers” at the beginning of April on the White stage. Commissioned by the Globe, Anna Ziegler’s (“The Last Match”) play focuses on two couples, a famous noveliest and an actress who share an intimate email correspondence (loosely based on the correspondence between Natalie Portman and Jonathan Safran) and an Orthodox Jewish couple in an arranged marriage. “This is a play that is very concerned with Jewish issues in a broad sense and very concerned with how we learn to be satisfied with the life that we have,” Edelstein explains. “That’s really what it’s about, how all of us are burned by the sense that we want something more or we want something new. Whether it’s in our marriage or in our professional life or anything – that we want to be better than we are. And that’s [Ziegler’s] big subject. It’s the subject of “The Last Match” as well, which is why can’t we ever just live in the life that we have and find happiness within it?”
“A Thousand Splendid Suns” will follow on May 12. “It’s a story about Afghan women under the terrible rule of the Taliban, … but what’s beautiful about it is [writer Khaled] Hosseini (“The Kite Runner”) gives these women such dignity and such a sense of the preciousness of life and finds a way to end the story on a note of optimism and hope … It’s this wonderfully humanistic story about women and their dignity and their lives,” Edelstein says.
Diversity in programming is a goal the Globe is reaching more and more, Edelstein says. “We’re doing a Chicano story, we’re doing a Muslim story, we’re doing two classics of the sort of European male cannon,” he says. “Sometimes we achieve [diversity] through playwrights, so this is just a case where we’ve got a wide range of ethnicities and cultural backgrounds among the writers that we’ve hired. Sometimes the writers are more homogenous and more typically white male, but the interpretive artists are more diverse … We did “Hamlet.” You don’t get more white male writer than William Shakespeare, and the company was more than 50 percent artists of color. Same as when we did Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” half of the company were artists of color … It’s a public institution. We receive public funding, and we’re in the middle of a park that is patronized by the wide range of San Diego culture and so it’s important that the Globe work hard to reflect that city that we live in.”
The Globe also ventures out of the park to make sure all San Diegans can enjoy their cultural offerings. Their annual “Globe for All” initiative, held in October, brought a production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” to underrepresented places like homeless shelters, libraries in urban neighborhoods, senior centers and veterans groups. They also run writing and acting workshops to help young people learn about a career in the theater, and even do a program called “Reflecting Shakespeare,” which brings Shakespearean workshops to incarcerated populations. “Next year we’re going to host the national conference of Shakespeare in Prisons. Believe it or not there are enough people doing this in the United States that you can actually have a national conference, and so the Globe is going to be the host of that big conference next year, which we’re thrilled about,” Edelstein says.
“We recognize that there are communities around San Diego who don’t necessarily, for a series of reasons, regularly enjoy what the Globe does, whether it’s because our tickets are expensive, whether it’s because you’ve got to have a car to get to Balboa Park, whether it’s because culturally some communities feel like maybe the theater or an elite arts institution really isn’t for them, but for whatever reason people don’t come. So we take it on ourselves to say well, you’re part of San Diego too. This is a San Diego institution that’s owned by everybody. We need to come and do our work for you so that’s what we try and do.”