Fall at the Shakespeare Fest 

Richard II and more

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With the days getting shorter and nights longer, you only have until Oct. 19 to catch the three different plays offered at the fall edition of the Utah Shakespeare Festival. The upcoming fall break for schools is a good time to attend, since two of the productions can be enjoyed by kids of all ages, and the third features a veteran actor nailing the performance of one of Shakespeare’s great historical characters.

The one holdover from the summer season is Peter & the Starcatcher, the funny yet poignant story of how an orphan without a name ended up becoming Peter Pan. As our summer review mentioned, and the 2013 City Weekly Artys issue re-confirmed, Quinn Mattfeld’s performance as The Black Stache—a budding villain yet to have the unfortunate, extremity-related accident that will turn him into Captain Hook—remains a must-see. Mattfeld does everything but eat the scenery while feeding off the audience to fantastic comic effect.

Children, teens, parents and grandparents will find songs to sing along with together in The Marvelous Wonderettes, a musical about a female quartet—Betty Jean, Cindy Lou, Missy and Suzy—performing at their 1958 high school prom and later at their 10-year reunion. While the plot and characters are simple, the song list includes unforgettable ’50s and ’60s girl-group classics such as “Heat Wave,” “It’s In His Kiss,” “Leader of the Pack” and “Son of a Preacher Man.” It’s a couple of hours of nothing but musical fun where you get to vote for the prom queen and learn the war cry of the Springfield High Chipmunks.

Another reason to visit the festival is the chance to watch David Ivers in the title role of Richard II. The part gives Ivers—one of the festival’s two artistic directors—the chance to move between playboy monarch and contemplative prisoner, touching all the bases in between. He masterfully handles each of his character’s transitions while delivering Shakespearean lines that explore the relationship between political power and responsibility—issues that are as relevant as ever.

One of the highlights of the festival in recent years has been watching Ivers and fellow artistic director Brian Vaughn together in productions such as The Winter’s Tale in 2011 and Stones in His Pockets in 2012. Richard II puts them back on the same stage, and it’s wonderful to watch two strong actors play off of each other. Vaughn, playing the Earl of Northumberland, aggressively confronts the deposed king, while Ivers’ Richard provides retorts that are at once both wise and weary.

Dan Kremer adds to the production with his performance as John of Gaunt, who must try to reconcile his duty to Richard and the love of a son who has been banished by that same king. His not-quite-deathbed rant at Richard strikes the right balance between illness and ill will. More importantly for anyone playing Gaunt, Kremer flawlessly and feelingly delivers the 13 lines of “This England,” one of the Bard’s most famous passages.

Richard II is the second of the 10 Shakespeare history plays the festival plans to offer in chronological order as part of the “Complete the Canon” project that will see the production of all 37 Shakespeare plays by 2023. Richard II ended up handing over his crown to Henry IV, and the first of the two plays devoted to that monarch will be featured in the 2014 summer schedule.

It’s a rare thing to be able to watch an excellent actor perform live in a role that he has had the chance to break down into every nuanced facial expression, and the fall edition of the Shakespeare Festival offers two such opportunities. It’s not too late, and it’s definitely worth the drive, to see The Black Stache and Richard II before they retire for the winter.

Peter & the Starcatcher, The Marvelous Wonderettes and Richard II
Utah Shakespeare Festival
Southern Utah University
351 W. Center St., Cedar City
Oct. 10-12, 15-19, see website for complete schedule
$8-$20
Bard.org

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