The Utah Shakespearean Festival's first-ever mounting of "King John," the rarely produced "All's Well That Ends Well" (last done in Cedar City 19 years ago), and the USF's most frequently produced romantic comedy, "The Taming of the Shrew," are rotating nightly on the outdoor Adams Memorial Shakespearean Theatre stage.
Longtime festival favorite Sheridan Crist plumbs the depths of King John's persona in that title role, then does a 180-degree turn as Lavatch, a bawdy jester, in "All's Well That Ends Well.""Shrew," which has additional matinee performances at 2 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the nearby Auditorium Theatre, has a "Shakespeare Meets the Three Stooges" feel.
KING JOHN, directed by Russell Treyz; 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays; running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes (one intermission).
"King John," one of Shakespeare's earliest works, is not quite a "history" play. While it deals with the same period as the legendary Robin Hood and the landmark Magna Carta (neither of which are mentioned in the play), it focuses on the dynastic turmoil following the death of Richard the Lion Heart.
Director Russell Treyz has shuffled scenes around and reshaped the 400-year-old script to improve the flow and create a far more understandable story. Shakespeare, whose plots tend to become rather convoluted and even a bit confusing for modern audiences, did quite a bit of historical reshaping of his own here - packing 17 years of throne-room intrigue and French/English skirmishes into what appears to be just a few days or weeks on stage.
Sheridan Crist's portrayal of King John is mesmerizing. It's a performance filled with passion and emotional depth.
Twelve-year-old R. Dustin Harding does double-duty as King John's doomed nephew, Arthur, who falls accidentally to his death, and as Prince Henry, who ultimately assumes the crown. King John plots to have the boy's custodian, Hubert de Burgh (Gary Armagnac) murder Arthur, but Hubert has a change of heart in one of the most touching scenes.
Other standouts are William Leach as Cardinal Pandulph, who confronts King John head-on in demanding his submission to the pope; Conan McCarty as Philip the Bastard, who provides quite a bit of comic relief; Patricia Fraser as Elinor; Jeannie Naughton as Constance (John's sister-in-law), and Peter Zazzali as Chatillion, an ambassador from France.
Youthful looking Mark O'Don-nell and April Hall also shine in a subplot involving the political marriage of Lewis, the French dauphin, and Blanch, daughter of the King of Castile (and John's niece).
Charles O'Connor's scenery is simple and understated, with gothic columns on one side of the stage depicting England, and shields and a purple drape on the other side indicating France.
Rosemary Ingham's costumes are stunning and regal.
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, directed by Peggy Shannon (Mondays & Thursdays, 8:30 p.m.; Wednesdays & Saturdays, 2 p.m.; running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes (one intermission).
Not all the Technicolor hues are on dazzling display across the street in the Randall Jones Theatre. This free-wheeling commedia dell'arte version of "The Taming of the Shrew" has costumes that are a patchwork of bright colors and patterns. What Bill Black left on the costume shop floor from "Joseph," Susan Branch has fashioned into a light-hearted, comic-strip look.
Those who remember the fairly straight-forward mounting here in 1991 will find a "Shrew" that's considerably more comical and silly.
Director Peggy Shannon has included the rarely done Christopher Sly "Induction" segment (and its epilogue). A practical joke played upon drunken bumpkin Christopher Sly sets the stage for a play-within-a-play, which Shannon injects with broad, Three Stooges-style humor.
This is a crowd-pleaser, but I personally prefer the '91 version.
Shannon's cast, several of them playing multiple roles (which can be confusing), is in top form.
Leading the pack of romantics and merrymakers are Hassan El-Amin as Petruchio, who comes to "wive it wealthily in Padua," setting his sights on the notoriously shrewish Katherina, played with feistiness and spunk by Angela Iannone.
Other notable players as "Shrew" rolls along include Gary Armagnac as Baptista, father of both Kate and the far sweeter Bianca (Michelle Six), the latter constantly pursued by anxious suitors.
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL, directed by Rosemary Dunsmore; Tuesdays & Fridays, 8:30 p.m.; running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes (one intermission).
This darkly adventurous comedy is centered around two of Shakespeare's least likable characters - Bertram, a young, sexually restless braggart, and Helena, who is somehow smitten by the cad and even resorts to a vulgar "bed trick" (after pursuing him all over France and Italy) to trap Bertram into honoring his marriage vows.
Director Rosemary Dunsmore, costumer Janet L. Swenson and scenery designer Charles O'Connor have focused on the play's lighter side, with a whimsical, Harlequinesque set and quite a bit of physical comedy.
While Jim Hart and Jeannie Naughton, as Bertram and Helena, are at loggerheads romantically, Bertram's bawdy sidekick Parolles and Lavatch, an equally vulgar jester, provide a considerable amount of comic relief. They're played, respectively, by Conan McCarty and Sheridan Crist, both of whom nearly steal the show.
Other notable performers in the cast include Patricia Fraser as Bertram's frustrated mother, the Countess of Rossillion; William Leach as Lafew, a cynical yet kindly French lord, who befriends both Helena and the Countess; William Metzo as the King of France; Michelle Six as Diana, a young virgin who abets Helena in foiling Bertram's anticipated steamy tryst; and Gary Armagnac as Rinaldo, a steward to the countess.
Despite Bertram and Helena's questionable actions, the finale does, indeed, "end well."
- Sensitivity rating: Traditional Shakespearean bawdiness.
THE ROYAL FEASTE and GREENSHOWS, directed and written by Douglas H. Baker; 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays & Saturdays.
This year's Royal Feaste has the same name as the 1997 version, "Titania's Enchantment." But Baker, a former USF artist who has performed for the past nine years as the magical Merlin in the Excalibur Hotel's "King Arthur's Tournament" in Las Vegas, has given the 90-minute dinner a more light-hearted, festive atmosphere, taking diners into a fantasy world of fairies and a celebration of the seasons.