Utah Shakespeare: So Much Drama | Buzz Blog

Monday, September 4, 2023

Utah Shakespeare: So Much Drama

Recapping a visit to Cedar City

Posted By on September 4, 2023, 4:00 AM

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click to enlarge For never was a story of more woe Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.—W. Shakespeare - JERRE WROBLE
  • Jerre Wroble
  • For never was a story of more woe Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.—W. Shakespeare
As we’re entering the home stretch of the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s summer repertory, it's now time to get thee hence to Cedar City before three of the seven plays end their runs.

If you, like me, have not made the trek to USF in a few years (since before COVID, in my case), you owe it to yourself to feel all the feels of this summer’s four Shakespearean plays (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Coriolanus and Timon of Athens), as well as three contemporary productions: A Raisin in the Sun, Jane Austen’s Emma the Musical and The Play That Goes Wrong.
click to enlarge The Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre - USF COURTESY PHOTO
  • USF courtesy photo
  • The Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre

A major draw is the ever-exquisite outdoor Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre (which opened its doors in July 2016—7 years old, already?). The space is well-integrated with the neighboring Randall L. Jones Theatre (home to the indoor productions) and knitted together by the enchanting Shakespeare sculpture garden.

In the center of it all is a shaded space for play orientations and seminars as well as a grassy knoll for the pre-performance Greenshows.

In between performances, art lovers can enjoy free admission to the Southern Utah Museum of Art, adjacent to the Jones theater and currently hosting a Lennart Anderson retrospective as well as works by Aisha Lehmann and Vitus Shell highlighting the Black experience.

Relaxed hospitality is at the heart of the festival experience, where it’s easy to strike up conversations with just about anyone who has seen a play or is about to see one. “What did you think?” “What have you heard about this show?” “I couldn’t quit laughing.” “I teared up.”

Now in its 62nd season, USF is simply a well-oiled machine that showcases the talents not only of the fine actors whom we tend to focus upon but also of those tasked with props, sound, set, costumes and more.

You can’t help but notice another element to this season’s performances: Diversity. In all ways, the festival has broadened its scope from the days of yore where seeing a lead actor of color was much more of a rarity.

There are now innumerable examples of how the festival is addressing the challenge of EDIA (equity, diversity, inclusion and access), something festival founder—the late Fred Adams—could have scarcely imagined grappling with back in the day when his goal was simply to bring the best talent the festival could afford to Utah. While that remains a challenge even today, the best talent can now be experienced in six women-directed productions (including the Greenshow) and a healthier ratio of diversity in lead roles. There’s even a regular and very popular Greenshow performance featuring the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah.

Kayland Jordan and Corey Jones in USF's A Raisin in the Sun. [USF courtesy photo by Jeff Bleazard]
  • Kayland Jordan and Corey Jones in USF's A Raisin in the Sun. [USF courtesy photo by Jeff Bleazard]
Also illustrative of the USF’s commitment to diversity is the festival’s first-ever performance of A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Derek Charles Livingston (who, in the wake of Brian Vaughn’s departure in 2022, also serves as interim artistic director and director of new play development). This American classic is powerful and emotionally wrenching—not one regular festival-goers might have expected to see in years past.

click to enlarge Timon of Athens set in the Anes Studio Theatre - JERRE WROBLE
  • Jerre Wroble
  • Timon of Athens set in the Anes Studio Theatre
But as to Mr. Shakespeare, two of this year’s plays: Timon of Athens and Coriolanus are important for those seeking to “Complete the Canon.” It's rare to see these tragedies performed, and both are staged in the intimate Anes (black box) Theatre. Due to the smaller seating capacity, it can be difficult to get tickets. Luckily for the canon completers still out there, both plays will be performed through Oct. 7, and you won’t want to miss either of them.

Midsummer Night’s Dream is always a crowd pleaser, and this year’s production was no exception. I will say this: Either I am becoming more able to "grok" Shakespeare (which is unlikely), or the dramaturge (Isabel Smith-Bernstein) crafted a version of the play that I could easily follow (more likely), so I did get the jokes and the asides like never before, as did the teenagers sitting behind me, who laughed hysterically at the ever-quirky Puck and the inane circumstances the characters found themselves in.
click to enlarge The set in the Randall L. Jones Theatre for The Play That Goes Wrong has a starring role. - JERRE WROBLE
  • Jerre Wroble
  • The set in the Randall L. Jones Theatre for The Play That Goes Wrong has a starring role.

But for those whose ears are not attuned to the English prose and verse of the late 16th century, the play orientations prior to each performance and the seminars offered the following morning serve to fill in any gaps.

Now, as to the comic relief? Shakespeare's comedies always entertain, but you’ll be glad to balance out the tragedies of Romeo and Juliet, Timon of Athens; and Coriolanus with the gut-busting and hilarious Play That Goes Wrong and touching, heartfelt Jane Austen’s Emma the Musical, referred to as “the champagne of the season.”

click to enlarge Playwright Nicholas Dunn - JERRE WROBLE
  • Jerre Wroble
  • Playwright Nicholas Dunn
My biggest surprise? Words Cubed, USF’s program for new plays, did a staged reading of The Value, a work in progress by Utah playwright Nicholas Dunn. I hadn’t planned to attend but heard it was good. It actually was great!

The cast (most of whom had just appeared in shows until 11 p.m. the night before) set their alarms for a 9 a.m. script reading and captivated us with their performances. We (the audience) then offered feedback and reactions to the play and helped the playwright refine his work. I hope the USF actors get cast for the roles they read when the production hits the big time (as I hope it does). So exciting to be there for the birth of a new play!

Finally, I’ve been saving the best for last and am hoping you got this far. One reason I haven’t attended the festival in the recent past is because for various reasons, my festival-going partners have flown the coop, and I struggled to find someone to go with (I know, sad!). But I noticed there was a Meetup group from Salt Lake that was headed to the festival at the same time as I wanted to attend, so I joined up with them. What kismet!

The group—Utah Theater Lovers (it's also a Facebook group, so you can join there if Meetup isn’t your thing)—is headed up by the dynamic and brilliant herder of cats, Megan Gutierrez. Turns out this group attends just about every show in town—and out of town, including in New York City, Boston, London and Edinburgh!
click to enlarge Megan Gutierrez, second from left, discussing a USF performance - JERRE WROBLE
  • Jerre Wroble
  • Megan Gutierrez, second from left, discussing a USF performance

Joining them in Cedar City as I did, I felt instantly among friends and drank in all their insights and theatrical wisdom (along with more than a few glasses of rosé at I/G Winery).

I had such a great time with all the other Bard-obsessed souls I shared the auditoriums with, feeling all the feels, that somewhere along the line, a not-so-good friend hitched a ride home with me, that being the COVID-19 virus, which mowed me down the next week and is why my recap has been a bit delayed.

So, my final bit of advice is ... yeah ... wear a mask to the indoor shows. I secretly judged a few folks who wore theirs, so it could have been karma that got me. Oh well, I did have some good memories to see me through it.

Utah Shakespeare Festival
195 W. Center St., Cedar City
800-PLAYTIX (752-9849)

Closing shows:
Sept. 8:
Romeo and Juliet
A Raisin in the Sun

Sept. 9:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The Greenshow

Oct. 7:
Jane Austen’s Emma the Musical
The Play That Goes Wrong
Timon of Athens

About The Author

Jerre Wroble

Jerre Wroble

Since 2003, Jerre Wroble has plied her journalism craft at City Weekly, working in roles such as copy editor, managing editor, editor and magazine editor (taking a few years off here and there for good behavior). She currently works as a contributing editor on special projects such as Best of Utah, City Guide... more

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