Shakespeare Under the Stars to Feature Faculty, Alumni Cast

In 2013, Shakespeare Under the Stars featured the production Macbeth in the University Amphitheatre.

The Department of Theatre at CSU Stanislaus is preparing its annual presentation of Shakespeare Under the Stars to feature the Bard’s brooding tragedy King Lear in the University Amphitheatre April 28 to May 3.

“King Lear is a dark and mystifying tragedy. If you are a fan of Game of Thrones, this should be really exciting,” said John Mayer, chair of the Department of Theatre.

Now in its sixth year, one of the goals of Shakespeare Under the Stars is to bring a great theatre experience to the community. This year, Prime Shine Carwash has partnered with the Department of Theatre to bring Shakespeare to life in the beautiful outdoor amphitheatre.

“With the help of Prime Shine this year and next, the University is able to offer a fully staged, high-quality production free to the community,” Mayer said. “This production will rival many of the major Shakespeare Festivals across the country.”

Under the direction of Patricia O’Donnell and featuring award-winning theatre professor Jere O’Donnell in the title role, the cast includes professionals, local actors, faculty, alumni and students.

Alumni featured in the cast include Carin Heidelbach as Goneril; Joshua Morriston as Albany; Elizabeth Holzman Phillips as Regean; Laura Dickinson-Turner as Cordelia; Anthony Vaughan Merchant as Edmund; Craig Tyhurst as Oswald; and Colton Dennis as the Fool.

O’Donnell describes the stage design by Eric Broadwater and costume design by Jonathan Singer as both fluid and expressionistic — incorporating both modern and historical references.

“The effect is to cast ourselves into the drama as each generation does and to amplify its resonance for a new audience,” Patricia O’Donnell said.

The text of the play has been condensed, eliminating references to traveling long distances, O’Donnell explained. The result is a shorter overall runtime for the play itself in addition to a compressed timeline within the story.

“We’ve ratcheted the intensity and rashness of the events by compressing time,” O’Donnell said. “Our hope is that it keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.”

O’Donnell also described how the message of the story can connect with modern audiences — near the end of his life Lear considers questions that have the potential to impact anyone: “Have I lived a good life?” “Have I prepared to transition?” “What will I leave behind?”

The play also examines the source from which leaders derive their authority and the responsibility of society to both challenge and to empower their chosen leaders.

“Lear’s admonition, ‘Take physic pomp, expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,’ is excellent advice to anyone who would be a leader, but also to any of us who have not felt the pangs of poverty to not make necessary the experiential moment in order to come to compassion and empathy, awareness of self and gratitude,” O’Donnell said.

While a number of theatre companies have been established in the area — many driven by CSU Stanislaus alumni — and larger venues attract touring productions, CSU Stanislaus has a distinct ability to share the arts with the community at large.

“The University has the tools and unique opportunity to showcase itself as a superb educational resource and as a center for exploration through the arts in an entertaining and inviting setting,” O’Donnell said.

For details about the performance of King Lear please visit