The Utah Shakespearean Festival’s 2010

The festival opened earlier this month, premiering six plays that they will produce in repertory through September 4.  This year, the Festival is emphasizing giving the audience a full “Shakespearience,” with backstage tours, literary seminars, brunches, and seminars showing how repertory theater works. To see a calendar of performances, purchase tickets, or find more information, go to www.bard.org.

Pride and Prejudice
by Mel Sundquist

Jane Austen’s use of emotion in all of her books can, without question, be described as understated. Translating these delicate machinations of the heart onto a stage as large as the Festival’s Randall L. Jones Theater was no doubt difficult for the cast of Pride and Prejudice, but the performance turned out well.

Bringing a surprisingly fast pace to Austen’s slow-moving narrative, the Bennett family lured in audience members with their excellent comedic timing and promises of great, though genteel and muted, romance.

Ellen Crawford, performing as the puerile matriarch of the Bennett family, was a standout. Her silly emotional contradictions and treatment of her daughters and husband brings laughter throughout the script.

This production, though beautiful, points out the decline in funding the Festival has experienced over the last few years – each character only had one costume, and one set was used to portray every location.

The 39 Steps
by Mel Sundquist

Though The 39 Steps is based on a film by Alfred Hitchcock, the play carries none of the thrilling weight of Hitchcock’s most famous movies. Instead of a tense thriller, 39 Steps is pure farce – an adventure story told in the most slapstick way possible.

Festival veterans and newly appointed co-creative directors Brian Vaughan and David Ivers are joined by Aaron Galligan-Stierle and Carol Linnea Johnson in this small but mighty cast.

Vaughan plays the protagonist Richard Hannay – a near-suicidal London dandy who finds his life without meaning or fulfillment. After meeting a mysterious German woman, he is swept up into a world of World War II espionage.

Ivers and Galligan-Stierle play the clowns, and the clowns play about a dozen parts each. Between them, the clowns have perhaps a hundred costume changes. They play villains, performers, train passengers, and occasionally cross-dress in a Monty Python-esque style that thrilled early audiences.

Though the technical treatment of the play was excellent and the cast performed brilliantly, it is difficult to feel anything but condescended to by the show, which often throws jokes and Hitchcock references too blatantly. If you wish to watch a light-hearted show and escape the drama of the season, Much Ado About Nothing might be a better choice.

Macbeth
by Mel Sundquist

Macbeth is one of the most well-known of Shakespeare’s tragedies; thus it is difficult to make it new and interesting to informed audiences. However, through some interesting casting choices the Festival maintained the original suspense of Shakespeare’s brilliant script.

The supporting cast shone – specifically Don Burroughs as Banquo and Michael Brusasco as Macduff. Shakespeare’s excellent characterization of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth usually tacitly make them the absolute stars of the show.

Grant Goodman – a man with a heroic face – performed Macbeth’s mental decline well, but without the resonance a critic always hopes for. His final scene, however, was chillingly excellent.

Festival newcomer Kymberly Mellen played Lady Macbeth decently, but like Goodman lacked the je ne sais quoi that Shakespeare’s writing deserves. Her high point was the famous “out damn spot” scene, which in the open-air theater was harrowing.

Much Ado About Nothing
by Andy Sherwin

Powered by a brisk pace and anchored by a pitch-perfect performance by David Ivers as Benedick, director B.J. Jones’ production of Much Ado About Nothing manages to find just about every right note.  It’s difficult to stand apart from Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film adaptation, but the wonderful cast takes one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies and balances the script’s pathos and comedy. The show starts with a sure-footed confidence and ends with a terrifically staged finale, doing right by any of the play’s countless (and well-earned) fans.

Great Expectations
by Andy Sherwin

Arguably one of the greatest novels ever to have been put to paper, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations isn’t really something that screams “musical theater adaptation.” Despite that, the world debut of this new musical was a lively, intricate show.

The story of Pip, played by velvet-voiced Jack Noseworthy, and his ascension to a higher socioeconomic status and attempts to woo the cold-hearted Estella (portrayed by Emily Trask), was staged with grace and empathy toward its complicated characters.
The Merchant of Venice
by Andy Sherwin

One of Shakespeare’s most controversial works, The Merchant of Venice is in part the story of Shylock, a Jewish merchant who is often portrayed as a mustache-twirling villain whose ethnicity drives him to villainy. When played by television and stage actor Tony Amendola, however, Shylock becomes a tragic figure driven instead by the persecution of the Jews by the Christians during the play’s setting. Bringing the humanity of Shylock to life, Amendola and the rest of the cast create a picture of the intersection between culture, economics, justice and revenge.

Highlights

  1. Watching Ryan Imhoff go from dastardly villain in Much Ado to drunken anti-Semite in Merchant Of Venice
  2. Observing (and participating in) a standing ovation for Margaret A. Hoorneman, the 96-year-old driving force behind the Great Expectations musical, who was present for its debut
  3. Hearing dirty limericks sung by the cast of the Green Show
  4. Making a mental bingo card of every restaurant, hotel and store in Cedar City whose name is a Shakespeare reference
  5. Watching David Ivers prance around in drag, Monty Python style, in The 39 Steps
  6. Grant Goodman’s final scene as the title character in Macbeth: chained to his throne, fighting in a deranged frenzy
  7. When Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet finally give in to their reserved Victorian passion in Pride and Prejudice
  8. Learning the interesting backstage details of each show in the literary seminars each morning
  9. Watching Tony Amendola of Stargate: Sg1 fame discretely pee as the gravedigger in Macbeth

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