‘House of Joy’ at Cal Shakes

Madhuri Shekar’s ‘House of Joy’ takes place during the Mughal Empire, in “some time like the 17th century, in some place like Delhi."


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Photo courtesy Cal Shakes

For several years now, California Shakespeare Theater has mixed the occasional new work, inspired by a classic of some sort, into its seasons of Shakespeare plays and more modern classics. But for the last few seasons, that’s become an explicit part of the theater’s mission with the New Classics Initiative, working with diverse playwrights to re-imagine classics from various cultures for the 21st century, from Marcus Gardley’s black odyssey to Octavio Solis’ Quixote Nuevo.

This year’s world premiere is reportedly more generally inspired by Indian legends than by a specific literary work. Nestled in the theater’s season between Shakespeare’s ever-popular Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Cal Shakes’ first Brecht outing with The Good Person of Szechwan, Madhuri Shekar’s House of Joy takes place during the Mughal Empire, in “some time like the 17th century, in some place like Delhi.” A bodyguard in the imperial harem has to choose whether to flout her own cherished beliefs and the duty she’s sworn to uphold in order to rescue an abused queen and aid in her escape. Described as a “swashbuckling action-adventure romance,” House of Joy leapt from last summer’s Bay Area Playwrights Festival to fill the open slot in this season at Cal Shakes.

Shekar’s videogame comedy In Love and Warcraft played San Francisco’s Custom Made Theatre Co. in 2015. The South Bay’s EnActe Arts staged Queen, her play about scientists investigating colony collapse disorder among bees, in San Jose last year, and previously produced her play A Nice Indian Boy. Massachusetts director Megan Sandberg-Zakian, who previously worked with Shekar on the audio play Evil Eye, helms this production in her Cal Shakes debut.

House of Joy, Aug. 14-Sep. 1, Tue-Thu 7:30 p.m.; Fri-Sat 8 p.m.; Sun 4 p.m.; Bruns Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda, $20-$87; 510-548-9666, CalShakes.org.

This article originally appeared in our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly

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