Thursday, September 17, 2015

Elizabethan England in the Heart of the Desert

Week 2 of catch-up is a go! This week I want to talk about my experience at the Utah Shakespeare Festival! This was something that I've wanted to do for a while, but since I didn't know if I'd be living in Utah over the summer, or because I had too much to do, or because I would have had to go alone and that's lame, I was never able to do it. But this year, I was staying, and I was free, and I had a friend with me! So, I had every reason to enjoy three straight days of Shakespearean goodness.

We bought tickets for three shows. The Festival has a lot of plays, but we decided to see only the Shakespeare plays they had this year: Henry IV Part Two, The Taming of the Shrew, and King Lear. More on them later.

We drove down in the afternoon, stopping at the theatre in Cedar City. So, here's the cool thing about this place: the theatre and the atmosphere really bring the feeling of being in Elizabethan England home to you. Sure, it's still modern, and people are walking around in summer shorts and T-shirts, but look at this:





And this:


The theatre itself looks like the Globe, as you can maybe sort of tell from these pictures. (I took them on my phone, and the theatre is big, okay?) There are seats where the groundlings would have stood, so it's a comfortable Globe, with the cheap seats on the balcony. I actually really liked the balcony; we could see everything. Also, before the show and at intermission, people dressed in Elizabethan costumes come around with baskets of concessions. My favorite were the famous tarts they sell at the Festival. My favorite was probably the lemon, although I've heard the apple is good (I didn't try that one).

The food in general is good, and quite British:


Fish and chips, man. Fish. And. Chips. With malt vinegar and a dessert of shortbread. This is about as authentic as you're going to get in the middle of Utah. All it needs is little bones still stuck in the fish and some mushy peas.

I was lucky to go with a friend who loves Shakespeare as much as I do. She went the previous year and loved it, and knew I'd love it too. (This friend is currently away in the real England. Seeing Hamlet in London. I'm not jealous, you're jealous.)

Henry IV Pt. 2 was the first play we saw, the first night. It was one I hadn't seen or read before, so it was kind of cool to start with a play I had no prejudices about. It was well-cast and well-acted; Falstaff was hilarious. We left, very pleased.

The next day, we spent the day itself in Zion National Park. I loved it. I've been wanting to visit more national parks, and Zion was one I'd never seen. We hiked the Narrows, which looks like this:






I didn't take this picture, but this is what the Narrows looked like. The Narrows is often too dangerous to hike, as if there's even the scent of a flash flood in the air people could be trapped up this slot canyon when the waters hit. But on the day we went (Pioneer Day - a good place to be in Zion!), the Narrows were open with no danger. So we hiked them. I did it barefoot, as my leather boots were going to be miserable to wear wet. My feet were and are fine; I just got an impromptu pedicure.

That night was The Taming of the Shrew. Great production. I'm always curious how they're going to shift this play to fit a modern, more politically-correct age, and the Festival tends to play the Shakespeare plays straight (no change in time period, or major alterations to character or lines). But they did the impossible: they played it straight, Petruchio taming an unruly Katherine, but they kept it funny for a modern audience and also, through their acting, portrayed a couple deeply in love and perfect for each other. Petruchio came across as a showoff, but one who saw the value inside Katherine that even she couldn't see, and Katherine was the good daughter and wife driven to extremes by her unfair circumstances. Played straight, right from Shakespeare, but with new depth. That's good acting, that is.

King Lear, the next night, was also good. I wouldn't say it had added depth, but it doesn't really need it. The tragedies are already deep and open to interpretation. My friend hadn't seen King Lear ever, so I warned her about the eye-gouging scene. I don't think she thought I was serious about someone getting their eyes gouged out on stage. I was. And the scene was done well.

All in all, the Festival was amazing. I haven't mentioned the musicians that would perform on the green outside the theatre before the show, their music fitting the culture of the play (English folk songs for Henry IV, Italian for Taming of the Shrew, Irish/Celtic for Lear). A great prelude. Good music, good company, good food, and good drama. I left with a pack of author playing cards and wonderful memories.

I even got to meet one of my heroes in person!







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