After more than six decades of annual offerings, the Utah Shakespeare Festival (USF) in Cedar City is serving up three scrumptious Shakespeare plays this year—“All’s Well That Ends Well,” “The Tempest” and “King Lear"—in addition to non-Shakespearean treats. Each of the Shakespeare plays is successfully brought to life with a differing sensibility—two with intriguing setting updates.
“All’s Well That Ends Well”
The comedy “All’s Well That Ends Well” achieves a luscious visual effect with a setting update to the 1940s, just before World War II, especially through its period costumes. The play works well in that updated context, as characters hopscotch between France and Italy, and going off to war is a way to avoid consummating a marriage.
In addition to its updated setting, Director Melinda Pfundstein did well to cast the engaging Kevin Kantor in the key role of Paroles. Kantor is a stronger presence here than in his more minor role in “The Tempest,” adding panache to this key character (whose name was the play’s original title, as shared in one of USF’s pre-show lectures). Besides his long hair, makeup and lingerie beneath his army uniform, Kantor brings refreshing exuberance to his role as the close friend of lead male character Bertram (Philip Orazio).
Orazio as Bertram and Kendall Cafaro as lead female character Helen are both excellently cast as well, playing their roles with grace and clarity. Helen is the more complicated character, who must strategize how to get Bertram to actually love her once they are married by decree of the King of France (Anthony Heald). Immediately after marrying her, Bertram absconds with Paroles to lead the war effort in Italy. Joining them in the army are the Dumaine siblings, one of whom is played by Anatasha Blakely, as funny here as she is in “The Tempest.”
The Dumaines orchestrate kidnapping Paroles to get him to admit his flimsy feelings for Bertram and others in a hilarious subplot. Meanwhile, Bertram is making moves on the young Diana (Amara Webb, as delightful here as in “The Tempest”). Soon Helen arrives in Italy as well and schemes a way to catch Bertram at his own game, with clever Diana’s help.
Women rule the day in “All’s Well That Ends Well,” quite a feat in a world where men will try to get away with all they can. But owing to costume designer Lauren T. Roark, they look pretty good doing it, especially Bertram in his wide-legged three-piece suit at court in France, complemented by Paroles’s balloon pants and cravat. Women’s dresses are similarly beautifully cut with lovely colors and prints. Costumes are truly eye-candy in this production.
And that’s good, because with two dozen actors and a few subplots, words overflow as letters fly, so the comedic characters, the beauty of costumes and scenic design evoking France and Italy (Linda Buchanan)—not to mention tight pacing—contribute to an overall entertaining experience of love and its intricate convolutions.
“All’s Well That Ends Well” continues in the Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre, 200 Shakespeare Ln., Cedar City, at the Utah Shakespeare Festival on the Southern Utah University campus, through Sept. 8. For tickets and information, call the Utah Shakespeare Festival box office at 800-PLAYTIX (752-9849) or (435) 586-7878, or visit Bard.org. Run time is 2 hours and 45 minutes, with intermission.
As with “All’s Well That Ends Well,” elements of the USF’s “The Tempest” have been updated to the 1990s through grunge musical references, Stephano’s (Anatasha Blakely) Nirvana T-shirt and Ferdinand (Freedom Martin) sporting a Walkman, all while preserving the play’s original text.
The effect is edgier than a traditional production—especially through the electric guitar piped in between scenes and a tattooed and pierced slave Caliban (Aidan O’Reilly)—though the seemingly slower pacing feels at odds with that mood.
Ocean sound effects (Lindsay Jones) and sand strewn about the wave-shaped stage (Yee Eun Nam) effectively evoke the play’s deserted isle setting. Video projection of the characters “back home” in Milan and the city itself—as well as images of trees and magic-induced character hallucinations, and even Caliban’s usually unseen witch mother Sycorax—add intriguing visual dimension.
Director Cameron Knight also recasts magician Prospero (Jasmine Bracey) as female in this play, making her Miranda’s (Amara Webb) mother rather than father, a move that works well with the story, especially owing to Bracey’s combination of strength and warmth, conveyed through her rich voice and commanding demeanor. She is a believable and enthralling Prospero in her beachy cape (costumes designed by Raquel Adorno).
In another gender change, however, Prospero’s rival sibling Antonio (Arizsia Staton) is now her sister, though the effect of that is less clear except perhaps to increase female presence in the play, which would normally just be Miranda and the magical spirit Ariel (Sophia K. Metcalf), who serves Prospero.
Ariel is exceptionally sprightly in this production—nearly constantly moving, to Metcalf’s credit—and Metcalf is able to sing Ariel’s songs in a folky way with an acoustic guitar, though often at the expense of clear lyric articulation. Antonio’s lines are also sometimes difficult to discern, perhaps due to a seemingly Southern accent where “king” sounds like “kaing,” which is unfortunate since the gender change might have allowed something more nuanced.
The other actors—with reflective sunglasses and switchblades instead of swords—carry their roles clearly and with feeling, but Martin as Ferdinand is especially natural, playing his charming role as the son of Alonso, King of Naples (René Thornton, Jr.), seemingly effortlessly. He and the similarly charming Miranda (Webb), who has never seen a male besides Caliban, make a likable young couple.
The subplot of a perpetually drunken Stephano (also female here rather than male)—who washed ashore to the island on a wine cask—is made even more amusing through Blakely’s lively delivery and ability to engage the audience with the confidence of a stand-up comedian. Though entertaining, these scenes could have been stepped up in terms of pacing for even funnier effect.
Using alcohol, Stephano convinces Caliban to switch allegiance from Prospero to instead serve her and the fool Trinculo (Kevin Kantor), underscoring the play’s colonial context now egregious in our postcolonial times. Though Prospero is played by an actor of color and Caliban (along with Ariel) is portrayed by a white performer—reversing traditional staging in terms of race—the harshness of enslavement comes across viscerally, especially owing to O’Reilly’s anguished writhing in Caliban’s mental and physical bondage.
Though love and reconciliation manage to reign by the end, making this play technically a comedy, the edgy portrayals and grungy mood overshadow the breezy island romance Prospero orchestrates, highlighting instead the human greed for power of which the young lovers yet know nothing—a “brave new world” indeed.
“The Tempest” continues in the Eileen and Allen Anes Studio Theatre, 101-199 W. University Blvd., Cedar City, at the Utah Shakespeare Festival on the Southern Utah University campus, through Oct. 8. For tickets and information, call the Utah Shakespeare Festival box office at 800-PLAYTIX (752-9849) or (435) 586-7878, or visit Bard.org. Run time is 2 hours and 30 minutes, with intermission.
Unlike the “All’s Well That Ends Well” and “The Tempest,” USF’s production of “King Lear,” directed by Vincent J. Cardinal, remains true to its original setting and gender roles, offering a very well-staged rendition of the tragedy involving fathers and their children.
Though some stagings of this play might highlight Lear’s “madness,” USF’s crisp production instead lays bare the questionable nature of Lear’s requests of his daughters as condition for the dowry of his lands. Instead of delusion, Lear (Anthony Heald) achieves a kind of beatitude—with youngest daughter Cordelia (Kendall Cafaro) as a sacrificial lamb.
Heald plays Lear with aging bravado as he decides to carve up his kingdom of Britain into three parts for his three daughters (showing a colorful map of those parts is a helpful touch). However, the daughters first have to say how much they love him, and later they have to put him up in their castles along with his 100 knights for 100 nights. (Dads.)
Oldest daughter Goneril (Lisa Strum) and middle daughter Regan (Stephanie Lambourn)—Strum and Lambourn both strong in their roles—pass the first part of Lear’s test with flying colors, offering him flattering words of affection. However, Cordelia, who says she is not one for words, chooses to be honest that she loves him as much as is fitting for a daughter. An infuriated Lear banishes her—along with the loyal Earl of Kent (René Thornton, Jr.)—letting the other two daughters split her share of the land. Fortunately, the King of France (Luke Sidney Johnson) offers to marry Cordelia anyway, taking her to his homeland.
But all does not go well for Lear once Goneril gets sick of the antics of Lear’s 100 knights before the 100 nights have passed, and Regan wants no part of his entourage either. They negotiate with Lear to reduce the number of knights to 50, then 25, maybe 5 and how about none. One can’t really blame them, except for their haughty attitudes, to which Lear overreacts, just as he did with Cordelia.
Meanwhile, in a parallel plot, the aging Earl of Gloucester (well played by Chris Mixon) is about to have progeny problems of his own. His black-clad bastard son Edmund (Philip Orazio, clearly relishing his more meaty role than in “All’s Well”) wickedly schemes to get rid of legitimate brother Edgar (Freedom Martin, as natural as in “The Tempest”) to become the next Earl of Gloucester. (Kids.)
Plots converge as Goneril and Regan both sleep with Edmund while Lear and his Fool (Aidan O’Reilly) meet the lost Edgar out in the open on a rainy night and Lear cares for him. Lear finds Edgar again later with the now-blinded Gloucester—a scene of two old men on an empty heath who perhaps couldn’t see what was right in front of them all along.
True loyalty instead of mere words is shown by Kent continuing to serve Lear in disguise, Cordelia returning from France with an army, and—in an affective scene—Edmund in the rags of a madman tricking Gloucester into not jumping from the cliffs of Dover.
But the price of not seeing the truth in time is Gloucester’s eyes and Lear’s daughter Cordelia. Lear is now in a white robe instead of his royal fur-trimmed velvet (rich costume design by Michiko Kitayama Skinner), humbly sanctifying everyone instead of blindly decreeing. As portrayed in USF’s compelling production, one could say Lear is perhaps least “mad” at the end.
“King Lear” continues in the Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre, 200 Shakespeare Ln., Cedar City, at the Utah Shakespeare Festival on the Southern Utah University campus, through Sept. 10. For tickets and information, call the Utah Shakespeare Festival box office at 800-PLAYTIX (752-9849) or (435) 586-7878, or visit Bard.org. Run time is 2 hours and 45 minutes, with intermission.