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Festival's comedies a delight

Peter Riopelle as Seymour and Tina Stafford as Audrey in Utah Shakespearean Festival production of "Little Shop of Horrors."
Peter Riopelle as Seymour and Tina Stafford as Audrey in Utah Shakespearean Festival production of "Little Shop of Horrors."

UTAH SHAKESPEAREAN FESTIVAL, "Little Shop of Horrors," "The Comedy of Errors" and "The Importance of Being Earnest," in repertory through Oct. 18, Randall L. Jones Theatre, Cedar City (1-800-752-9848 or www.bard.org)

CEDAR CITY — For its fall season, the Utah Shakespearean Festival is focusing on frothy romance, fun and fast-paced comedy, showcasing one of Shakespeare's most hilarious (and shorter) comedies, Oscar Wilde's brilliant wit and an off-Broadway musical.

Two common threads connecting the productions are guest scenery designer Beowulf Boritt's ingenious sets and Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz's lighting.

Boritt, a New York-based designer making his first trip west of the Mississippi, is innovative and gifted. His set for "The Importance of Being Earnest" is understated but stylistic, giving free reign to Oscar Wilde's lyrical language. For "The Comedy of Errors," the scenery is pure whimsy — inspired by Dutch fantasy artist M.C. Escher's sketches of stairways, hallways and doors that go everywhere and nowhere. For "Little Shop of Horrors," the Randall L. Jones Theatre stage is filled with a slightly rundown brick structure in a seedy New York neighborhood — the perfect breeding ground for carnivorous Audrey II, the floral Frankenstein.

THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, running time: 2 hours (one intermission).

If you're afraid of Shakespeare, director John Neville-Andrews' fast-paced production of this hilarious classic would be just the place to start.

It's a mirthful mix of mistaken identities and comical romance. It involves not one, but two, sets of twins (one pair adopted as slaves). They're separated as youths in a shipwreck. Two of the twins, and their mother, ended up in Ephesus. The other two, and their father, somehow returned to Syracuse.

Now, nearly 20 years later, the father (Egeon) and his surviving son and slave, slip into Ephesus to search for the rest of the family.

Keep in mind a couple of things here: There's a Hatfields vs. McCoys attitude between the two cities; any Syracusian venturing into Ephesus is condemned to death. Also, each set of twins was somehow given the same names, so there are two Dromios (the slaves) and two Antipholus. This adds to the frenetic confusion.

You'll have more fun if you don't concentrate on keeping the characters straight. Just go with the flow and know that everything works out in the end.

The built-in confusion is further heightened by the fact that Neville-Andrews was able to hire two identical twin actors — Peter and Paul Riopelle — to portray the two Dromios. And, with the right costuming and cosmetics, two unrelated players — Rex Young and Shelby Davenport — are able to successfully play the two look-alike Antipholus brothers.

This energetic foursome keeps the momentum going at breakneck speed.

The director took another clever twist. Instead of having the boys' father deliver his explanation about how they got separated in the first place, he stretches it out, one bit at a time. Egeon (Timothy Casto) intermittently hounds Solinus, the duke of Ephesus (Daniel Gibson), adding more hilarious touches to the proceedings.

The cast, overall, is superb, including Tina Stafford as Adriana, the confused wife of the Ephesian Antipholus, and Tyler Layton, who plays Luciana, her sister.

Sensitivity rating: Some Shakespearean bawdiness.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes (one intermission).

Although it's based on a classic 1960 B-movie, this stage musical version of "Little Shop of Horrors" gets A-class treatment at the festival — a stage-filling set, terrific performances and probably one of the most talked-about "props" ever created for the festival.

Director Paul Barnes has added a short "megamix" finale, partly to showcase bits of the show's best songs, but — most likely — to prove to youngsters in the audience that there is life after Audrey II.

Peter Riopelle is perfectly cast as the clumsy, genius nerd Seymour Krelborn, who has discovered a strange and exotic new plant. He also has a secret crush on his coworker, Audrey (nicely played by Tina Stafford), who is dating a sadistic dentist, Orin Scrivello (an over-the-top performance by Andy Paterson).

Timothy Casto is well cast as Mr. Mushnik, owner of the flower shop where Seymour and Audrey work.

Much of the fun in this show is contributed by a '50s version of a Greek chorus — a trio comprised of Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette (Sierra A.R. Rein, Ashley Martinez and Melinda Pfundstein). They dish up nifty songs and help move the plot along.

Paterson wins the prize for having the most roles in any one play. In addition to the dastardly dentist, he plays five other characters in fairly rapid succession.

Kudos, too, to the behind-the-scenes talent involved with Audrey II, the bloodthirsty, out-of-control vegetable — Daniel Gibson, Audrey II's sassy voice, and Benjamin Reigel, who manipulates the machinery.

Out of sight (but not out of sound) is Darryl W. Archibald's small rock combo.

"Little Shop of Horrors" may not be filled with deep-seated messages (except, maybe, the risks involved with taking chances). It's just thoroughly entertaining.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, running time: 2 1/2 hours (two intermissions).

In his final (and arguably best) play, Oscar Wilde takes great delight in poking outrageous fun at the stiff social and political mores of Britain during the late 1800s. In a well deserved nod to Shakespeare, Wilde uses mistaken identities to add to the frothy romp.

Two young (and carefully protected) women in the play, Gwendolen Fairfax and Cecily Cardew, are passionately in love with men who both claim to be named Ernest (the "Earnest" in the title is a differently spelled play on words).

One of the Ernests is John ("Uncle Jack") Worthing, who is betrothed to Gwendolen and who is also Cecily's official guardian. The other "Ernest" is Worthing's best friend, Algernon Moncrieff, who has an outrageously deceitful history.

Algernon's aunt, Lady Bracknell, also just happens to be Gwendolen's overly protective mother.

Then there's a slight subplot involving Cecily's prim and proper governess, Miss Prism, and the village minister, Rev. Canon Chasuble.

It's not a huge cast of characters, but enough to keep the momentum of Wilde's sarcastic wit running full tilt.

Director J.R. Sullivan has a first-rate cast of talented performers — Rex Young as the dashing John Worthing, Paul Riopelle as Algernon, Tyler Layton as Gwendolen, Katie Kozlowski as impetuous young Cecily, Lauren Klein as Lady Bracknell, Chris Lusk as Miss Prism, Charles Metton as Rev. Chausuble, and Shelby Davenport in two roles, Algernon's butler and John's manservant.

Bill Black's detailed period costuming is sumptuous.


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