Boise fell in love with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival on a “Midsummer” evening in 1977 on a Downtown patio. The summer romance between this plucky, grass-roots theater startup and creative Western town has remained true through changing venues and artistic leadership, financial struggles and encroaching development.
Today, the festival is a vital part of the Treasure Valley’s economy and cultural tradition. A night at its world-class amphitheater is an essential part of summer for many Idahoans. Theatergoers stroll down winding paths, picnic on the riverside patio and take in the beautiful Foothills view along with the high-caliber plays and musicals.
Laura Welsh Berg, Erin Partin, Chris Klopatek, Heather Thiry and Christine Weber in “Love’s Labor’s Lost,” William Shakespeare’s classic romantic comedy about head versus heart. It opens Saturday, June 4. Ken BlazeGreat Lakes Theater
The festival and the city have grown up together, and now the company inhabits a national and local stage. Since taking the helm in 1992, Producing Artistic Director Charlie Fee and Managing Director Mark Hofflund have increased the company’s profile and production values by creating strategic alliances with Cleveland’s Great Lakes Theater and Nevada’s Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, where Fee also oversees artistic decisions.
ISF 2016 season
There are a lot of moving pieces in making a season.
Here’s how it works: The seasons at Cleveland and Boise dovetail into each other September through September. Great Lakes originates two productions, ISF does the same and they swap. Boise stages a revival of a past production and a new show for Tahoe. This year it’s Fee’s bossa nova-infused “Comedy of Errors” and Victoria Bussert’s “Forever Plaid.” The latter will play Boise in September, and Cleveland in May 2017.
“And Then There Were None”: Murder mysteries have become increasingly popular at ISF since Drew Barr’s 2012 production of Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap.” The trend continues this season with the Christie classic: “And Then There Were None,” directed by Fee.
“Audiences just go crazy for Agatha Christie,” Fee says.
Fee turned to his core company for this ensemble piece based on Christie’s best-selling novel of the same title. In it, 10 people are lured to a remote island and then murdered one by one in revenge for a death each is accused of causing. Christie adapted it into a play during World War II and was convinced to give the theatrical version a happy ending that is different than the novel.
Fee’s production uses a newly adapted “alternate” ending that takes it back to Christie’s original plot. Friday, May 27, to Sunday, July 31.
“Love’s Labor’s Lost”: The second slot belongs to a comedy. This season he wanted to work with a new director, Tyne Rafaeli, whose career is heating up now. She’s been assisting former ISF resident director and Tony winner Bartlett Sher on his Broadway projects, such as the current “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Rafaeli took on Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labor’s Lost” with a snappy mix of music and theater genres to freshen Shakespeare’s story about four young men who eschew romance for study. That works great until 10 seconds later, when four beautiful women arrive at court. The production features eight young dynamic actors, a mix of familiar and new faces, and the company’s stalwart clowns. Friday, June 3, to Sunday, June 26.
“My Fair Lady”: Since the success of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” in 2005, the center of the season has belonged to a musical. Fee and Bussert had been looking at “My Fair Lady” for a few years but couldn’t get the rights. Coincidentally, Sher had them tied up for an impending Broadway revival; however, his cast didn’t come together, so he released them and Fee pounced.
“It’s a classic book musical of the Golden Age and the kind of musical we haven’t done,” Fee says.
Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe based their musical on Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” a play about a linguist who bets that by teaching her to speak correctly, he can pass a Cockney flower girl off as a duchess.
The production features Jillian Kates, who gave a hauntingly luminous performance as Lily in “The Secret Garden,” as Eliza Doolittle and ISF artistic associate Tom Ford as Professor Henry Higgins. Friday, July 1, to Friday, Aug. 26.
“Twelfth Night”: The next spot belongs to one of Shakespeare’s heavy hitters, such as last season’s “King Lear.” Fee was looking for a play for director Barr and chose the gender-bending romantic comedy “Twelfth Night.”
“It’s probably one of his (Shakespeare’s) top five of all the plays in terms of writing,” Fee says.
Barr has created some of ISF’s most memorable shows, including last season’s magical and mysterious “The Tempest.”
Like “Tempest,” “Twelfth Night” involves a shipwreck. Nearly all hands are lost, except for twins Viola and Sebastian, played by Cassandra Bissell and Jonathan Christopher MacMillan, who land on separate parts of the shore of Illyria, each thinking the other dead. Viola disguises herself as a boy and goes into the service of a melancholy duke. What follows is a high-spirited comedy of mistaken identities, romantic twists and shenanigans, and hilarious pranks by some of the bard’s best-written clowns. Friday, Aug. 5, to Sunday, Aug. 28.
“Forever Plaid”: In September, Idaho Shakespeare Festival repertory season closes and a single-run show runs through the end of the month. This September show is Bussert’s production of “Forever Plaid,” the cult jukebox musical about the greatest boy band that never was.
A 1950s-’60s style four-part harmony boy group, The Plaids die instantly when their car collides with a bus load of Catholic schoolgirls on their way to see the Beatles’ U.S. debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964.
Cut off just before their first big gig, they make a heavenly comeback because their desire to sing was so strong, and get a chance to sing some of the greatest hits of the golden era of doo-wop in a posthumous performance. Friday, Sept. 2, to Sunday, Sept. 25.
What else is up at ISF
▪ The big news this year is that the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., is sending one of Shakespeare’s First Folios, pictured, to Boise to mark the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death. The Folio is the first printed collection of his 36 plays. Nineteen of the Folger’s 82 folios are on tour, and drawing huge crowds.
In 2012, something magical happened. ISF received a grant from the Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation to fund an innovative idea from Education Director, Renee Vomocil. This idea, aptly named the Helena Project (for the All’s Well That Ends Well and A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s transformative character who holds unwavering hope) aimed to bring Shakespeare’s works to the children at the St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital School. These kids, while receiving treatment for chronic and life-threatening illnesses, are able to continue schooling in the hospital so that they may keep up with classmates and return to school once they are able. Teaching artists from the School of Theater work with students at the hospital to analyze, interpret, and perform Shakespeare’s works. This creative outlet is a healing, artistic way to teach young scholars about the Bard, while helping them find their own voice and inspiration, often times while under intense treatments.
The very year the program began, Renee was asked to present the curriculum to educators from across the country at the annual Folger Shakespeare Library conference for educators in Washington, D.C. The second year of the program, she was asked to speak at a national conference for hospital schools. This past spring saw a poignant, touching video produced, called “A Different Kind of Battle” (see below). This short film aims to spread the importance of theater and Shakespeare in the lives of hospital students.
Carla Hart, the head of the St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital School, is adamant that the Shakespeare program makes a difference. An 11 year-old girl named Grace attended each class and was recovering from a brain tumor. She had never had the opportunity to take a theater class. Grace wore an eye patch as part of her recovery, an accessory that further contributed to her shyness and hesitation to participate. Yet, as the course continued, and she donned exciting costume pieces, Grace lost herself in the characters and gradually came out of her shell, becoming one of the students with the best voice projection.
Shakespeare lived over 400 years ago and often wrote of love, good and evil, laughter, and deep conflict. For sick kids today, fighting their own battles, his voice resonates, gives hope, and enlightens.
Review: Idaho Shakespeare Festival opens a magical, hysterical production of ‘As You Like It’
June 10th, 2014
Dana Oland: 377-6442, Twitter: @IDS_DanaOland
Sweet Arden, William Shakespeare’s enchanted forest, where troubles melt, love letters fall from trees and happy endings are ensured for all, comes to vibrant life in Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s production of As You Like It, which opened to a packed house Saturday night.
Director Edward Morgan makes his ISF debut with As You Like It, his charmingly beautiful reinvention of Shakespeare’s comedy that explores the playwright’s recurring theme of humanity’s intersection with nature. But rather than the fairy magic that alters behavior in his earlier A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it’s the very quality of it that transforms.
That makes the amphitheater’s encroaching trees, chirping birds and shifting natural light feel like a necessary part of Russell Metheny’s rotating set, which takes us from a harsh, early-20th-century factory to a golden daguerreotype-like image of the Adirondack Mountains that glows under Rick Martin’s lighting.
Here, the tyranny of the court is replaced by the oppression of machinery and punch clocks of the second Industrial Revolution, a setting that speaks to us, as we struggle against the tyranny of the ping of texts, email and social media.
Morgan ditched its Elizabethan tunes and inserted appealing American ditties sung by barbershop quartets, trios and a stellar song-and-dance man.
The story revolves around an exiled duke (Dougfred Miller) and his followers, who live a Utopian life in the forest, and a pair of wandering lovers: his daughter Rosalind (Betsy Mugavero), who also is banished, flees disguised as a boy to Arden to seek her father – and on a separate flight to escape the death plot of his brother (J. Todd Adams) – Orlando (Torsten Johnson), the man she loves.
She brings her cousin Celia (Christine Weber) and Touchstone (Dustin Tucker) along, and they meet a bevy of brilliantly funny characters, from melancholy Jaques (David Anthony Smith) to the mismatched Phoebe (Lori McNally) and Silvius (Juan Rivera Lebron).
Mugavero’s Rosalind bubbles with energy and wit as she schools Orlando on how best to woo her; Johnson’s Orlando is unabashedly earnest, and Weber’s Celia is luminous.
Tucker gives a blistering triple-threat performance as Touchstone, who is cast here as a vaudevillian extraordinaire.
As Jaques, Smith mines the deeper irony and humor in the text just with his phrasing and fluctuating tone. His “Seven Ages of Man” speech is worth the ticket price alone.
If you think Shakespeare’s plays are hard to understand, give this one a try. It might just bring you back to the Bard.
This show has a short run – just 12 more chances to see it before it’s off to open Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival’s season. It’s really a don’t miss.
Through the ISF Access Program, the magic of summer performances are brought to the Deaf and Hard-of–Hearing
June 5th, 2014
By Cassie Mrozinski, ISF Development Associate
If you have experienced a night of theater at Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s Amphitheater by the river in Boise, you have probably heard many things. The quiet murmurs of an audience as a poignant or shocking moment is revealed on stage…a goose honking overhead during Juliet’s heart-wrenching monologue…the tortured voice of Anthony from Sweeney Todd as “Johanna” is sung clearly and perfectly. Our audience members are here because they crave an experience and most likely, because they love theater. But what if you couldn’t hear that monologue? That song? What if you, too, love live theater, musicals, and an atmosphere like the Amphitheater… but were deaf?
Signing Shakespeare, one aspect of the Festival’s Access Program, ensures that ISF fans who are Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing can enjoy performances every season. Holly Thomas-Mowery, a nationally-certified, seasoned American Sign Language interpreter, leads a talented team of six who spend weeks before each performance studying the script so that they can successfully and artfully interpret the show. Each of ISF’s five shows will have a dedicated interpreted performance with American Sign Language. Click here for full info on Signing Shakespeare and the Access Program.
On June 11, we will be celebrating all components of the Access Program at the theater with a fascinating discussion panel. Participants will include Thomas-Mowery and Steven Snow (Executive Director of the Idaho Council for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing) who will discuss Signing Shakespeare; Carla Hart, Head of the St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital School, who will discuss the Helena Project, a theater residency taught by Festival artists at the Hospital School (Click here for an amazing video of the Helena Project); and Judie Mickelson, Event Coordinator at Good Samaritan Boise Village Retirement, who will speak to a complimentary ticket program for people with financial needs. In addition, the forum will feature several ISF actors who will discuss what bringing their work to all members of the community means to them. Please join us for this informative and captivating talk that will begin at 6:45 in the Dell, just outside of the amphitheater.
The culture and excitement of summer theater is an experience not to be missed. The ISF Access Program guarantees that no one has to.
Review: Idaho Shakespeare Festival opens with chills and thrills
June 2nd, 2014
The company’s 38th season launches with a production of the comedic Deathtrap.
BY DANA OLAND
June 2, 2014
Idaho Shakespeare Festival has learned a little something about murder mystery in the past few years, with its productions of “The Mousetrap” in 2012 and “The Woman in Black” in 2010. Most importantly, people love them – and they’re best performed in the dark.
The latter task was achieved through Rick Martin’s always brilliant lighting design and clever use of timing. The show starts a few minutes later than usual, intermission lasts a few minutes longer, and by the second act the theater is plunged into darkness so the effects of a new computerized lighting system can work its spine-tingling magic.
And the audience at Saturday night’s opening of “Deathtrap” just ate it up. There were gasps and moments of shocked awe provided by director Charlie Fee’s stylish production.
Stylish is hard to do when you’re set in the 1970s. But this production pulls it off with Russell Metheny’s set – which is part looming Connecticut colonial home, part medieval torture chamber – and Alex Jaeger’s flared pants and Florence Henderson-esque pant-suits. And, of course, Martin’s lighting.
Ira Levin’s comic thriller “Deathtrap” is a play within a play, about a play about a murder – follow? If you did, you might have a chance of holding on during the hairpin turns and plot twists that happen throughout.
The text is clever, self-referential and funny – if a bit dated. But some of the crucial plot points depend on that era’s technology – or lack thereof.
This production that originated at ISF’s sister company, Cleveland’s Great Lakes Theater, is well played by a tightly wound ensemble.
It all hinges on the idea that art imitates life, and vice versa – a duality that provides the engine for the play.
Tom Ford is Sidney Bruhl, a greedy and once successful playwright in desperate financial straits who is willing to do almost anything to produce a hit. Murder? Maybe.
Ford deftly navigates the gray areas in his character, hitting all the right notes between charming victim and menacing adversary.
Attractive ISF newcomer Nick Steen’s Clifford swings between a sweet aw-shucks charm and a cold-hearted deviousness.
Tracee Patterson makes her ISF debut as Myra Bruhl – Sidney’s wealthy, nervous wife – and has the horror scream down.
Lynn Allison provides a huge dose of comic relief with her Dutch psychic Helga Ten Dorp. Her character’s fiery red hair, eccentric clothing and Allison’s spot-on comic timing make you want to see more.
Lynn Robert Berg rounds out the cast as Bruhl’s attorney Porter Milgrim, the character who puts all the pieces together in the end.
Welcome! This summer we’re inviting everyone to a book party – an online book party. Many of us here at the Shakespeare Festival love to read. We’re often talking about books, sharing suggestions with one another and, two years ago, we did a company wide book club.
So, we thought: why not have another book club and invite the entire ISF family to participate?
This is how it will work. Five very different books have been selected for the summer/fall. Four of the books have been chosen to complement your playgoing experience this summer and one book we’ve selected to celebrate the work of a local Boise author. Buy one book or as many of them as you would like. Read any way you like: hard copy or e-book. We’ve created a Facebook Group Page where we invite you to post your thoughts about the chosen books, tell us about the books you’re reading this summer, make other reading suggestions and share the fun of summer reading.
– If Deathtrap doesn’t provide you with enough summer thrills, we’ve selected Ira Levin’s Edgar Award Winning first novel A Kiss Before Dyingto keep you on the edge of your seat.
– To accompany our Shakespeare plays this summer is a brand new anthology published by the Library of America. It’s filled with essays and stories and historical documents all celebrating the history of Shakespeare in America.
– Many of us know the musical Les Misérables…. but how many of us have read it? Read Victor Hugo’s classic novel and then see the phenomenal musical it inspired.
– Steel Magnolias is a delightful and moving play about strong Southern women. The All Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg is the latest book by an author who is no stranger to strong Southern ladies.
– Our final selection for the summer is the new novel All the Light We Cannot See by Boise author Anthony Doerr.
Please note that all book selections have been made with an adult reader in mind. If you have younger family members who would like to participate please read the selections yourself and decide if you feel they are appropriate for the younger reader.
Buying Your Books
Of course, you can purchase your books or e-books any way you wish! However, we’re providing you with the opportunity to support both Idaho Shakespeare Festival and the wonderful Rediscovered Books. Please note, the Norman Denny translation of Les Miserables is somewhat difficult to find in paperback. We’re just encouraging everyone to read the book so feel free to choose a different translation if you wish.”
Supporting Idaho Shakespeare with your purchase
By clicking the links directly below, you will be taken to Amazon.com where you can purchase either the Kindle version or a hard copy of our selections. The Idaho Shakespeare Festival will receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you!
Once you click on the Amazon links below, please make sure that you are choosing your preferred edition, hard copy or Kindle copy, before purchasing.
Supporting Rediscovered Books with your purchase
If you wish to purchase hard copies of this summer’s selections, Rediscovered Books will have them all in stock and available for 10% off the cover price. If you wish to purchase e-books and support Rediscovered Books, you can do so by getting the Kobo reader app and setting up an account through the following link. http://www.rdbooks.org/getting-started-kobo
Please note that Kobo is not supported on Kindle devices. Click Here to visit the book club page at Rediscovered Books.
Rediscovered Books is located at 180 N. 8th Street, near the corner of 8th and Idaho.
Join our Facebook Group!
Click here and you will be taken to our Facebook Group page for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival Book Club. So, join us now for a summer of great reading!
Review: Sweeney Todd Delights with Blood, Bondage and Belly Laughs, Idaho Shakespeare Festival debuts macabre summer musical
July 10th, 2013
Boise Weekly, July 10, 2013
by Harrison Berry Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street opens with a chorus of singers, their faces painted and eyebrows arched, waxing on the musical’s titular character, who sends his victims “to their maker impeccably shaved.” This bit of wit sets the tone for the enigmatic Todd–played with gusto by Tom Ford in Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s production of the musical–whose drive for vengeance is transmuted to comedy by irony in this charming rendition.
Stephen Sondheim’s musical centers on a barber sentenced to exile when his wife becomes an object of lust for Judge Turpin (Darren Matthias). When the barber returns, he assumes the name of Sweeney Todd, vows revenge and shacks up with the unbalanced (and unsuccessful) meat pie chef Mrs. Lovett (Sara M. Bruner).
The plot thickens when it is revealed that Todd’s daughter, Johanna, is the betrothed of the sneering Turpin; that Todd’s only friend, Anthony Hope, is in love with Johanna; and that Todd’s rival and would-be blackmailer, Adolfo Pirelli, has been given a Columbian necktie, leading to the dubious innovation of a chute, through which Todd slides his victims down to a bakery where Mrs. Lovett processes them into the best meat pies in London.
It’s all executed with a tip of a hat, and many artful quips and puns that won belly laughs from the audience. The music, though not something one would want a significant other humming around the house, is lively and catchy, while the lyrics explore Todd and Lovett’s ghastly enterprise.
Ford and Bruner make a hell of a team. Ford’s despondent visage puckers into a glower by the second act while Bruner’s wild-eyed infatuation evolves into romantic desperation and insanity. Their gallows humor is livened by a blindness to their respective singular devotions and a large and kinetic cast.
But the highlight of ISF’s Sweeney Todd is the props: Todd’s shining, silver-handled straight razor and his plush, red barber’s chair that pushes his victims down a chute into Lovett’s bake house. Add to that buckets of blood and gore, a guffaw-inducing portrait of Todd and Lovett and a basement meat grinder oozing pink human sludge, and the macabre mood is set. The vibe also gets a healthy dose of darkness with Charlotte Yetman’s costumes, resplendent with leather bondage-esque attire and glimmering surfaces.
Sweeney Todd is still a tragedy: The machine that sends the corpses to the kitchen ultimately reveals the horror of Todd, Lovett and Turpin’s respective monomanias. But the tragedy of the ending didn’t dampen the ISF audience, which was thrust out of its seats for applause when the cast took its bow opening night.
Review: Idaho Shakespeare Festival makes evil fun in stylish production
July 10th, 2013
Published: July 8, 2013
By DANA OLAND / firstname.lastname@example.org — Idaho Statesman
It’s one thing to take on a landmark piece of musical theater, such as “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” It’s another to turn it into a transformative work of art, and that’s what the Idaho Shakespeare Festival achieved Saturday.
Director Victoria Bussert and a cast of 16 actor-singers brushed the cobwebs from the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical as they transported the audience from aghast discomfort in the opening to a dark, blood-soaked revelry by the finale that had them cheering as the lights went down.
It’s raw, gruesome, devilishly funny and unflinchingly honest. Bussert never backs away from the darker realities of the early industrial urban life: the timeless excesses of power, corruption and institutionalized cruelty that fuel the story.
Charlotte Yetman’s costumes, a mix of rich colorful fabrics and modern twists on Victorian style, breathe life into the production, as does Jeff Herrmann’s purple-hued, mechanized set of rotating panels and trap doors. As darkness comes, Mary Jo Dondlinger’s lighting deepens the impact.
Music director Matthew Webb leads the orchestra – filled with many Boise Philharmonic players – with a keen musical skill and attention to detail.
Tom Ford in the title role and Sara M. Bruner as Mrs. Lovett are as delightfully a sinful, bawdy pair of evildoers as you could want.
Turns out that Ford, though mostly a tenor, is a powerhouse baritone. He brings a conscience to his Todd, as he is hollowed out by his own evil deeds and lust for revenge.
Bruner continues to surprise with the depth of her performances. She attacks Mrs. Lovett with lusty avarice and evil genius. She proves herself vocally, handling this extremely difficult and demanding score with near athletic prowess and tender expression.
Review: Hats Off to ‘Noises Off’ at Idaho Shakespeare
September 7th, 2012
Boise Weekly, Published September 5, 2012
by Tara Morgan
The set for Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s Noises Off feels instantly familiar–like it was borrowed from an old British sitcom. A well-worn couch and a doily-covered recliner rest center stage, framed by seven wooden doors–three upstairs, four down–and a staircase that winds up stage right. A number of bad tapestries, awkward portraits and tchotchkes fill out the rest of the warmly dated space.
And that TV comedy feeling continues as Mrs. Clackett ambles out in the opening scene, wearing a crocheted blanket housecoat and fuzzy pink slippers, her hair in curlers. As she stumbles through her lines and fusses with a plate of sardines, director Lloyd Dallas’ voice booms from above, giving her stage direction.
“How about the words, love, am I getting some of them right?” she asks. “Some of them have a very familiar ring,” he chides.
Clackett, played by the fictional Dotty (who, in turn, is played by ISF vet Lynn Allison), is in the final hours of rehearsal for a farce called Nothing On. Soon, her fellow cast members–a ragtag team of regional theater half-wits clad in vibrant ’70s leisure suits and mini dresses–come stumbling through the set’s doors, botching their lines and timing with equal dedication. As the clock ticks toward opening night, the Valium-popping Dallas (played by Richard Klautsch) gets more and more exasperated.
While the ISF cast makes this play-within-a-play concept look easy–switching between characters and accents fluidly, developing the narrative of the fictional play and the real play in unison–the production requires the technical precision of a ballet.
With every door that slams shut, another one opens. As Clackett leaves the stage momentarily, real estate agent Roger (played by the Ben Stiller-esque Christopher Williams) swings through the front door with a giggling blonde named Vicki (played with robotic vapidity by Betsy Mugavero). The second they duck into a bedroom for an afternoon tryst, the house’s tax-evading owners Phillip and Flavia (played by Shad Willingham and Kathryn Cherasaro) come barging on stage. And things continue in this manner for the remainder of the sexual innuendo-filled Nothing On.
And while there is plenty of slapstick comedy going on in the fictional play–with dresses disappearing and actors emerging in sheets to look like Arab sheikhs–the company’s rapidly intertwining personal relationships provide for even more hilarity. When we’re taken behind the curtain in Act Two, we learn that Dallas is sleeping with both Brooke (who plays Vicki) and the play’s stage manager, Poppy. Dottie is having a tryst with the jealous Garry (who plays Roger), who thinks she’s also seeing Frederick (who plays Phillip). These petty jealousies and ego bruisings play out mostly silently–and sometimes confusingly–backstage during a performance of the fictional play.
Though Noises Off can be a lot to follow visually–with characters swinging in and out of doors and squabbling in various corners of the set–it’s ultimately a fast-paced, finely timed farce that promises to only get better with time.
Review: Comedy and magic blend in Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s ‘Winter’s Tale’
August 6th, 2012
Published: August 6, 2012
By DANA OLAND — email@example.com
Once upon a time there was a king afflicted by jealousy and madness, a family torn apart and a kingdom thrown into chaos — and so begins “The Winter’s Tale,” which opened at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival on Saturday.
Written late in his life, this is one of Shakespeare’s best and most complex plays, both in language and theme. He takes elements he worked on in other plays and weaves them together.
Jesse Berger’s production unfolds like a pop-up storybook full of magic and art.
From David Barber’s whimsical set, tinged with symbols of astrology and alchemy, to Sara Tosetti’s colorful 19th-century-esque costumes, it’s an enchanting night of theater.
Berger and his design team tell this story exceedingly well, with clarity and charm.
Kings Leontes (David Anthony Smith) and Polixenes (Lynn Robert Berg) rule Sicilia and Bohemia, respectively. And they are lifelong friends — “brothers,” they say. And just like Cain and Abel, their love for one another is tinged by suspicion and doubt.
In a moment of vulnerability at a winter solstice celebration, Leontes suspects that Polixenes has won the affection of Leontes’ pregnant wife, Hermione (Lise Bruneau). Leontes accuses her, immediately becomes a tyrant and devastates his family and subjects.
Smith turns in a wonderfully heartrending performance. His jealousy comes on as if a disease — a “tremor cordis,” he calls it.
His suspicion deepens and Smith physically diminishes, falling deeper into madness in Lear-like fashion. The more he accuses her, the bigger toll it takes.
Berg, an actor who’s been with this company since he was a college student, continues to mature into powerful and commanding roles. His Polixenes is such a role.
Bruneau is a compelling and wise Hermione, and brings a lovely sense of grace to the role. Richard Klautsch is delightful as the stalwart Camillo.
Laurie Birmingham, who was marvelous as Juliet’s nurse in “Romeo and Juliet” earlier in the season, is a revelation as Paulina, a courtier who comes to Hermione’s defense. She’s a no-nonsense, don’t-mess-with-me best friend.
The second act takes us to Bohemia, a wildly colorful and exotic land filled with a patchwork of country styles all stitched together with Slavic style.
Kimbre Lancaster as the grown-up Perdita — Leontes banishes this daughter as an infant because he suspects she’s not his — and Miles Gaston Villanueva as Florizel, Polixenes’ son, are terrific as young lovers who must overcome their parents’ histories.
M.A. Taylor and Juan Rivera Lebron are hysterical as the Old Shepherd and his son.
And there are loads of fun character performances in the cast, including Lina Chambers, Veronica Von Tobel and Tom Ford as the musical rogue Autoyclus.