This year, Henry V is the Festival’s standout production. The story is portrayed with a rare honest humility. The themes of conflict, leadership, and warfare are explored thoroughly and with an uncluttered sense of purpose.
Henry V is the story of the English king’s invasion of France. Though the play was originally written for an audience that knew the story of King Henry V well, with the help of a well-written and passionate narrator (played by Corliss Preston) it is relatively easy for the audience to follow.
This production of Henry V did particularly well in exploring the effect of warfare on the individual. Director J.R. Sullivan spoke of its effect on King Henry (played excellently and selflessly by Festival favorite Brian Vaughn), especially during the end of the English siege on French border town Harfleur. “The passion of warfare can take a person over. You can become that thing that perhaps you don’t want to be.”
The performances in this history are refreshingly unpretentious and ingenuous. Each character, no matter their rank, is so well portrayed that the audience forgets that King Henry is the star of the show until the third act. It plays like a true ensemble piece. If you make it to Cedar City this summer, Henry V should be your first priority.
The Comedy of Errors
Set in a Londoner’s idea of what the far away, exotic and mysterious Turkish town of Ephesus would be like, The Comedy of Errors is a slapstick tale of the hilarious reunion of two sets of twins, one set playing slave to the other. One half of each set has been living together in a different town, separated in childhood by a shipwreck. The twins from Syracuse travel to Ephesus to find their brothers. After four acts, full of the antics of mistaken identity, a family is reunited.
Director Kirk Boyd, in his first time at the Festival, has shown a magnificent grasp of modern Shakespearean comedy. “If I have a gift as a director, it’s that I like to create a fertile playground,” Boyd said. “It’s like a really fertile sandbox. So you know where the edges are, but in the middle of it, you can go crazy! You can do whatever you want, and fall down and not hurt yourself.”
By approaching the comedy this way, giving the actors no limitations within the parameters of the script, Boyd was able to create a truly hilarious environment that was, at the same time, relatable to modern audiences and respectful to Shakespeare’s original intentions.
As You Like it
As You Like it is characterized by its two main themes: the exploration of young love and the dichotomy between a trivial, fickle life at court and practical life in the country. The play is often found to be an overly complicated story, but this season’s production, continuing with the overall theme of humility, presents each character’s journey extremely well.
The story revolves around Rosalind, who has recently been banished from Duke Frederick’s court. Rosalind and her best friend Celia (Duke Frederick’s daughter) escape to the forest, disguised as a man and a shepherd girl respectively. Rosalind is madly in love with Orlando, who has also recently been banished by his own brother, Oliver. They meet in the forest, but Rosalind is still disguised as a man. The story also features two other sets of young lovers and an usurped Duke and his Robin Hood-like band of merry men in the forest.
The actors relate heavily to their characters, specifically concerning their relationships. “There’s something about young love that’s easily dismissible,” said Quinn Mattfeld, who plays Orlando. “But it’s nice to see love at first sight valued. Because we have such a cynical society … that’s so easily willing to dismiss the emotions of young people as hormones. … This is real, it’s what you’re experiencing and it’s valuable.”
Calm and yet thought-provoking, As You Like it is definitely worth seeing.
Written by Noel Coward,
Private Lives is a practice in interpersonal acrobatics. Two young couples honeymooning in France go through a wide range of emotions, transitioning from deep love to intense hatred as naturally as we transition from being awake to sleeping.
Young, traditional Sibyl (played by Katie Whetsell) and puppy-like Elyot (Don Burroughs) have just been married and arrive at their hotel room in France. In the next room, the dramatic and high-maintenence Amanda (Carol Linnea Johnson) and her loyal, pragmatic new husband Victor (Michael Brusasco) have done just the same thing.
The audience soon learns that Elyot and Amanda went through a tumultuous marriage and divorce five years earlier. The story follows these characters as all four of them metamorphose between love and hate for the others several times. Although not much actually happens, these emotional gymnastics are more than enough to keep the audience entertained.
Private Lives is also a visual delight. Everything is attractive, from the actors to the set. The production is a pleasant complement to the heavier Shakespearean fare.
The Secret Garden
A deeply emotional musical based on the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden is designed to pull heartstrings. Mary Lennox, a child raised in British colonial India, is found alone after her family and servants have died of a cholera outbreak. Sent to the melancholy, moorish home of her rich widower uncle-in-law, Mary slowly transforms the home and the people in it from walking ghosts in a stony tomb to a lively, happy family in a fertile garden.
The production is dreamlike, with set pieces seamlessly moved by the singing dead, who walk among the living, haunting their memories. Director Jim Christian has created a well-transitioning environment, giving the production an unbroken momentum that is extremely refreshing.
The music is written to be taken advantage of, with several long crescendos into booming choruses, intended to force tears from the audience. Though the cast’s performance was emotionally palpable, they avoided the temptation to condescend to the audience with over-acted thunderous refrains.
The most obscure production of the bunch, Foxfire is a heartbreaking exploration of an evolving family. Widow Annie Nations (played by Joyce Cohen) is faced with the decision of moving from her husband’s Appalachian family home – named Stony Lonesome – to live with her son. Annie still sees and hears Hector, her husband, though she knows he is dead. Though she’s getting older and less able to take care of herself, she feels that leaving Stony Lonesome would be leaving Hector (played excellently by Will Zahrn) for good.
The family bond in Foxfire is complex, tangible and extremely realistic. The actors, most of whom moved to Cedar City for the summer to be in the plays, felt an immediate bond – which they credit to Director and Festival Casting Director Kathleen Conlin.
Though Foxfire is classified as a straight play, music is written in to the script. Annie’s son Dillard, played by John Bisom, is a musician, and we witness his performances as well as comforting backwoods songs sung by the other characters. “The play itself has a musicality, and I think the music punctuates that,” Bisom said.