Taking a break from helping repair the large tent pitched on Rock Ledge Ranch's grounds, Murray Ross heads to the nearest bench to talk about William Shakespeare. (Yes, TheatreWorks' artistic director gladly leaps into service as a stagehand when needed.)
This year's Shakespeare Festival features Cymbeline, a lesser-known play from the master's later years that was long classified as a tragedy — something Ross disputes.
"It has one of the happiest endings in all of Shakespeare," he says. "But it's a very long, winding road to get to that happy ending. That road goes into some surprisingly dark and violent places, and that may be one reason that it was cast as a tragedy. But it is ultimately a very benign, almost radiant ending."
The plot has familiar Shakespearean ingredients: thwarted love, murderous conspiracies and cross-gender disguises. The story of Cymbeline, king of Britain, and his daughter Imogen, is recounted in a scenario that Ross laughingly compares to Snow White.
Randy Moore plays the king and Susan Maris his determined daughter; they are among the four out-of-towners in a cast of 10 that also includes TheatreWorks stalwart Tom Paradise and brothers Erik and Karl Brevik. For garb, Ross and costume designer Rose Fox Hamilton wanted to reflect Cymbeline's "whimsical mashup" spirit, so they started with modern elements and added a historical flair.
The action travels from the royal court to rural Wales, which could present a challenge for staging in a tent. But this is TheatreWorks' fourth festival at Rock Ledge, and Ross isn't worried. He pitched in on set design in addition to directing and tent repair, and says this production will hark back to the Bard's day.
"Shakespeare's plays usually were performed on basically a bare stage, with two or three exits," he says. "That's really what you need and what serves the play well.
"It's a journey play, and it's very, very much an outdoor play. It's an epic fairy tale. It just fits summertime at Rock Ledge Ranch."