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The 2003 Utah Shakespearean Festival

The outdoor Adams Theatre has 3 classics by William Shakespeare

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CEDAR CITY — The Utah Shakespearean Festival's three outdoor productions at the Adams Shakespearean Theatre — all plays written by William Shakespeare — range from light-hearted to somewhat darker to pitch black.

MEASURE FOR MEASURE, 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays; running time: two hours, 30 minutes (one intermission).

Depending on the direction, the rarely produced "Measure for Measure" could be dark and dramatic. But director Elizabeth Hubble has given the production's comic-relief characters — and Shakespeare's elements of disguise — free reign. In the process, while touching on such issues as justice, sexual freedom, sin and forgiveness, what is considered one of Shakespeare's "problem" plays is quite accessible for contemporary audiences.

The setting is Vienna, with exquisite costumes by Janet Swenson and beautiful murals by scenery designer Bill Forrester.

The two central characters are Vincentio and Isabella. The former is the duke, who pretends to be taking an extensive trip, but instead masquerades as a friar in order to spy on how his court operates. The latter is a novice about to become a nun, whose brother Claudio faces execution because his betrothed, Juliet, is pregnant.

As Shakespearean productions go, this one has a fairly small ensemble — just 19 performers, many in multiple roles. The cast is first-rate — especially Elisabeth Adwin as the distraught Isabella, Henry Woronicz as the sly but compassionate Duke/Friar, Phillip Herrington as the doomed Claudio; Scott Coopwood as the Duke's villainous, scheming deputy, Angelo; Michael David Edwards as the humorously malicious Lucio; and Dan Frezza as Escalus, an elderly, dutiful subordinate.

The comic-relief team includes Leslie Brott as the over-the-top Mistress Overdone, notorious bawdy house operator; Joe Cronin as Pompey, her hilarious servant; Chris Hatch as Elbow, an agitated constable; and Eric J. Stein in two key roles, as Froth, one of Overdone's customers, and Barnardine, an inebriated prisoner.

Shelby Davenport is also well-cast as Provost, the prison warden who helps Duke implement an ingenious plan to save Claudio.

It's been nearly a quarter of a century since USF last produced "Measure for Measure." Hubble's carefully crafted production makes the trip to Cedar City more than worth your time and money.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, 8 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays, 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays (matinees in the Auditorium Theatre); running time: two hours, 40 minutes (one intermission).

When it comes to fractured relationships, dreamers and schemers, today's TV-addicted audiences probably turn to such things as "Friends" or "Sex in the City." Some 400 years ago, Elizabethans flocking to the Globe had such delightful romantic comedies as "Much Ado About Nothing."

While "Much Ado" may not be "in your face," Shakespeare certainly had an intuitive handle on love-hate relationships, as well as romance and wry wit. And director Kate Buckley delivers a thoroughly enjoyable production of "Much Ado," with lovable characters (OK, there are a couple of not-so-pleasant exceptions) and broad-sided humor.

Warning to those seated in the first two rows in the center: That ornate water trough at the front of the stage is not just decorative. It comes in handy for some "splashy" pratfalls. (The ever-thoughtful festival does provide complimentary towels.)

As expected, there is a flurry of happy endings at the conclusion — but getting there is a bumpy trip. Not for the audience, but for the various characters involved.

Don Pedro (David Ivers) is pretty much the ring leader in orchestrating the romantic entanglements, despite the roadblocks provided by his scheming bastard brother, Don John (Michael David Edwards).

The action is set in the Sicilian city of Messina, where Leonato (Joe Cronin) is governor. He and his brother, Antonio (Dan Frezza) each have unmarried daughters — Beatrice (Victoria Adams), who is cut from the same fiery cloth as Shakespeare's shrewish Kate, and Hero (Kelly Lamont).

Hero is infatuated with handsome young Claudio (Eric J. Stein), while Beatrice is constantly at loggerheads with confirmed bachelor Benedick (Brian Vaughn). The latter has one of the comedy's best segments — Benedick unsuccessfully attempting to hide in the background while Don Pedro, Leonato and Claudio (fully aware that Benedick is listening) loudly plot to bring Benedick and Beatrice together.

Equally hilarious is bumbling constable Dogberry (Scott Coopwood) and his band of bungling watchmen. They manage, somehow, to foil Don John's nefarious schemes, and everything — more or less — ends up happily ever after.

The performances are superb, all across the board.

Bill Forrester's brightly colored set has "frothy comedy" written all over it, helped along by David Kay Mickelsen's costumes, Donna Rusika's lighting and Christine Frezza and Darryl W. Archibald's musical underscoring.

RICHARD III, 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays; running time: two hours, 55 minutes (one intermission).

The winter of the Duke of Goucester's discontent is bone-chilling. The aspiring King Richard III is the cold-blooded mastermind behind one murder after another.

In "Measure for Measure," it's the "bawdy count" — but in "Richard III," the "body count" reigns supreme. Richard's murderous journey to the throne is strewn with victims — young and old, male and female, kinfolk and comrades. He's a pathetic Jekyll/Hyde villain, acting humble and compassionate for some, but also admittedly evil and deadly. Any milk of human kindness in his veins has long-since curdled into poisonous venom.

The role is one of Shakespeare's strongest — and Henry Woronicz carries it off handsomely. Richard's deformities are both physical and mental. He limps to the throne, due solely to his expertise at dispatching those who stand in his way.

The play is nearly three hours long, but the intensity never wavers. And while Woronicz is front-and-center most of the time, there are other terrific performances as well — Anne Newhall as "mad Margaret," King Henry VI's widow, who curses Richard up one side and down the other; Leslie Brott as Queen Elizabeth, whose two young sons are among Richard's victims; Craig Spidle as the Duke of Buckingham, who switches allegiances; Elizabeth Terry as the Duchess of York; and Jason Heil as Henry, Earl of Richmond, who defeats Richard in the climactic battle at Bosworth Field.

Among the best-staged scenes is Richard being visited in his battlefront tent by the ghosts of those he's murdered. It's a restless night, as they torment his dreams and assure him he will ultimately "despair and die."

J.R. Sullivan directs the tragedy with a sure hand. Bill Forrester's scenery — two imposing Gothic towers flanking the stage — provides a strong backdrop for the action.

E-MAIL: ivan@desnews.com