Monday, September 30, 2013

The 2013 Fall Utah Shakespeare Festival: My Reviews Of The Plays

I returned Sunday afternoon from a quick weekend trip to the Utah Shakespeare Festival's Fall Season in Cedar City, Utah.  Before I review the plays, let me note that, in many ways, I liked being at the fall season festival better than being at the summer season.  The drive south was beautiful (all the rabbit brush was in bloom against the juniper trees and the red sand! gorgeous!), it wasn't hot, the festival and the motel were FAR less crowded, the plays were less crowded, it was easier to park and easier to get a seat -- and did I mention it wasn't HOT???
However, I was not as thrilled with the plays as I was in the summer season -- but I think that has to do with the plays themselves, not the Festival.
First of all, Peter and the Starcatcher is still going on.  You can read my review of it here.  (Interesting side note: I had a conversation on Saturday with Rhet Guter, the star of the show.  I was mainly interested in telling him how fabulous I thought his choreography had been for Anything Goes this summer, but I did end up confessing to him why I wasn't raving over Peter.  He told me a LOT of people had told him the same thing.)

Then we have The Marvelous Wonderettes.

This is a juke box musical, much like Forever Plaid.  There is no plot, but there is a good deal of characterization and depth -- and humor.
Basically, the first act takes place at the prom in 1958.  The girls sing wonderful pop songs and ballads of the era in great harmony, all while battling out their gum-chewing, boyfriend dramas.  The audience even gets to vote for the prom queen, much to the annoyance of the ushers, who have to collect all the ballots and pencils.
After intermission, it's 1968 -- the 10-year reunion:

The girls return, looking like they just stepped off the Lawrence Welk Show, and sing songs of that era, channeling their Supremes style.
The only resemblance of a plot is strung around the song lyrics, such as "It's My Party, And I'll Cry If I Want To."  There is a teacher/student romance that's meant to seem "cute" but made me cringe, as poor Mr. Lee would end up in jail today for the same thing.  And there was some definite realism about the drudgery and limits of being ONLY a housewife -- something which is sure to irk a good many Molly Mormons and mommy bloggers, although I think a very good point was made.
And that's it.
The music is great.  The set is fabulous (a high school gym with banners about the school's championships: chess, square dancing, and jai alai), and the acting is superb (I loved all the chipmunk references.).
It is light, fluffy, and a bit silly.  There is no more depth than in a soap opera.
I enjoyed it very much, but, if you're looking for serious drama, this is not the show for you. :)

At the completely opposite end of the drama spectrum, we have Richard II.

This is a star-studded cast, with David Ivers playing the lead, Brian Vaughn as Northumberland, and Quinn Mattfield as Hotspur, as well as several other well-known actors in minor parts.  The show was directed by Henry Woronisc, who played Prospero in the summer season's The Tempest.
The set is sparse, and the play has been set in the Edwardian era -- which pleased many play-goers and bothered others, based on the next morning's discussion hour with the SUU Shakespeare Program's director.  The acting is FABULOUS.  And the play is in a marvelous blank verse, which makes it tremendously rich.
Shakespeare was constantly experimenting, and this play was one of his not-so-popular experiments.  The problem is that there is not one, single likable character in the whole play.  Oh, the viewer ends up feeling sorry for Richard, but he's a wuss who vacillates on everything and then just gives up.  You can't really like that.  And the Duke of York seems to be standing up for what he thinks is right in the face of great odds -- for part of the play.  Then he caves and treats his son horribly; he appears to want him to be killed for treason.  The Queen does have some tender love scenes with Richard, but she also appears harsh and manipulative in other scenes.  And Northumberland is just nasty.
It's hard to love the play when you can't connect to any of the characters.
King John is a difficult play, too, but Shakespeare makes you feel the king is noble by the end.  And Richard III is created as a real villain by Shakespeare, but the Bard STILL manages to make him likable -- in a Severus Snape sort of way.
But Richard II just has no honest, upright, noble, or friendly characters -- except maybe the groom who appears in one of the final scenes.
So, this is not a play for Shakespeare newbies; it could put you off Shakespeare forever if you're just dipping your toe in the water.  No, Richard II is a play for hard-core Shakespeare fans.  I'm really glad I saw it, but it's certainly not my favorite.
And it's an extreme contrast to Wonderettes, I assure you.

Thus endeth my reviews.  For more information, for tickets, for more of these great photos, go to

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