Monday, April 25, 2016

Jonathan Frid in the 1966 National Shakespeare Festival

In 1966, just two months after DARK SHADOWS debuted on ABC, Jonathan Frid appeared in the annual National Shakespeare Festival at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre. That year’s festival straddled four months, beginning in June and ending in September, showcasing three of Shakespeare’s plays along the way: “The Tempest,” “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and “Romeo and Juliet.”

At the time, the Old Globe Theatre was home to an odd mix of professional and amateur performers. Many of the professionals appearing at the festival that year were on the cusp of stardom. Frid was not far from his break-out role in DARK SHADOWS in April, 1967, while the festival’s leading man, Jon Voight, was three years from his Academy Award nominated performance MIDNIGHT COWBOY.

Left,Jonathan Frid and Terrence O'Connor.. Right, Jon Voight and Lauri Peters.
Also part of the casts that year were Will Geer, Anthony Zerbe, Richard Lupino and Voight’s then-spouse, Lauri Peters.

Curiously, it was “Two Gentlemen of Verona” that was the best received of the three productions, at least by the press. William J. Nazzaro, a drama critic for the Arizona Republic in 1966, suggested it was the general familiarity of the other two plays that made “Verona” shine a little brighter by contrast. Nobody was prepared for how weird and funny the play could be.

“Both ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘The Tempest’ are respectfully competent,” he wrote in August that year, “but both seem earthbound after ‘Two Gentlemen.’”

Jonathan Frid and Lauri Peters in ROMEO AND JULIET, 1966
Frid had three roles in the festival: Caliban in “The Tempest,” The Duke of Milan in “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and Lord Capulet in “Romeo and Juliet.” It was the role of Caliban that won him his best notices, but the part almost went to another actor. Frid was originally cast as Prospero’s brother, Antonio, with Zerbe cast as Caliban. After a handful of rehearsals, the director opted to switch their roles, preferring the more imposing Frid as Prospero’s henchman.

Frid as Caliban, left, and the Duke in Milan.
“Frankly, Jonathan chewed the scenery as Caliban, which was no bad thing to do, as you can go in any direction with that part,” wrote actor Rand Bridges in the book, “Remembering Jonathan Frid.” Bridges also appeared in all three productions, the most notable role being Alonso in “The Tempest.”

“Jonathan Frid and Jon Voight as Caliban and Ariel are as different as daylight and dark,” wrote Marjorie Rogers, for the San Bernardino County Sun. “Caliban, the physical animal part of man, is hunched and smells of fish. He is deep and raspy voiced and moves heavily and clumsily. Ariel, an airy spirit, who represents men’s souls, looks absolutely transparent from top to toe. His voice sighs like the wind, especially when he sings.”

"Verona" was actually a musical, which gave Frid one of his rare opportunities to sing on stage. Conrad Susa, the theater’s composer in residence from 1959 to 1994, wrote new music for the production, which relied on Shakespeare’s own words for the lyrics. While it’s difficult for DARK SHADOWS fans to imagine Frid driving audiences into fits of laughter, that’s apparently what happened during “Verona.”

“Mirth builds as the indignant duke (Frid) begins to sing Valentine’s letter urging his daughters to elope, grows into a dud as a servant looks from the balcony, and smashes into a ludicrous trip with Valentine himself, horrified but helpless, joins in the song from memory,” wrote Rogers. Keep in mind that Zerbe – an actor not known for taking light-hearted roles – played Valentine.

“(Frid) had a wonderful sense of comedy, which I always liked,” remembers Bridges. “He would not go for the laughs – he just did the lines and the songs, which were pretty absurd. You couldn’t help but laugh at the way he played it – he was very funny.”

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