Reviews of Three 2017 Utah Shakespeare Festival Plays

Viola and Nurse

Photo: Viola and her Nurse (Betsy Mugavero and Leslie Brott) from Shakespeare in Love

These are the three plays we saw this year at the Utah Shakespeare Festival–next year, we hope to see five! Two winners and a shockingly big loser; never disappointed in a play at this festival before now, and we’ve attended for years! But my hopes are high for the future of excellent plays at this professional theatre.

  • Shakespeare in Love, based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard; adapted for the stage by Lee Hall, directed by Brian Vaughn. This love letter to all things Shakespeare is a lovely story and production, with romance, tragedy, and comedy in a satisfying mix. Quinn Mattfeld and Betsy Mugavero are perfect as struggling playwright Will Shakespeare and his muse, and aspiring actor (women were not allowed on stage in Elizabethan England), Viola de Lesseps. Will is working on his next play, Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter, but he is not having any success until he meets Viola, who is disguised as a young man so she can audition for the play. Many additional characters add to the fun. Shakespeare in Love is full of clever references to Shakespeare’s plays. The play pretty much tracks the 1998 Best Picture Academy Award-winning film, but the stage production is well worth seeing. It mostly glosses over the fact that Shakespeare was married (a cold and loveless marriage entered too young, according to the play–but that doesn’t justify his behavior)  and the playgoer will have to suspend judgment on that for best enjoyment of the play. The production is especially effective because it is presented in the Globe Theatre-like Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre. I drifted out of the theatre in a delighted haze. This is a must-see at the 2017 Shakespeare Festival and could become a popular, repeated feature of the event.
  • Guys and Dolls, based on stories and characters by Damon Runyon, music and lyrics by Fran Loesser, book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, directed by Peter Rothstein. Styled “a musical fable of Broadway,” this 1950 Broadway hit has become a classic of the American musical stage with the stories of gambler Sky Masterson, Salvation Army-like missionary Sarah Brown, gambler Nathan Detroit, and his long-suffering fiancée, Miss Adelaide. The Damon Runyon characters are a lot of fun and the music and dancing are great. Melinda Parrett is a standout as Miss Adelaide and Quinn Mattfeld as Nathan Detroit seems almost to have to restrain himself from stealing the show. Brian Vaughn is good as usual, although his portrayal of Sky Masterson is avuncular, without the dangerous edge and passion that seem to be a part of the character. A worthwhile and enjoyable show.
  • William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged), by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, directed by Christopher Edwards, is the worst play I have ever seen, unfortunately, and I’m stunned that it was chosen for the festival. I say this not to be unkind, but to try to save theatre-goers from wasting their time and money. The production is fine–acting (three young men play all the parts), lighting, costumes, and overall staging are well done. It’s the play that’s the problem. I got all the humor and allusions; I know Shakespeare included elements of bawdy and farce in his plays, but this play is all bawdy and farce and no plot and no nobility or progress of characters, as Shakespeare included in all his plays. The playwrights need look only across the festival to Shakespeare in Love to see how this can be accomplished. The play in question centers around a supposed feud between Ariel (of The Tempest) and Puck (of A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and goes on to introduce some of the Bard’s many characters in mixed-up circumstances. There are some clever comparisons of Shakespeare’s canon with the Disney’s work. Some of the meet-ups, such as the ever-indecisive Hamlet with the ever-decisive Lady Macbeth, are really a good idea. But many other audience members seemed as uncomfortable/bored/waiting-for-this-to-get-good as I was. Shakespeare appears at the end of the play as a self-proclaimed deus ex machina, and announces that the play is awful and should never be produced. Someone should have listened.

Remember, My Child—-Souviens-Toi

Souviens-Toi is a beautiful hymn in the LDS French hymnbook, with the melody based on Dvorak’s New World Symphony. My son was recently called to be the choir director in his Denver ward, and asked if I would translate the hymn into English. Several drafts and sixteen rhyming couplets later, this is what I came up with–it was an inspiring experience:

Remember, My Child

Based on the French hymn, Souviens-toi, melody from the New World Symphony by Antonin Dvorak; lyrics by the Comité linguistique français de l’Eglise de Jesus-Christ des Saints des Derniers Jours. Lyrics translated from the French by Lisa Bolin Hawkins.

Verse 1: What do you remember, child, of life before this earth—
When you were a spirit-child before your mortal birth?
Heavenly Parents held you near, not that long ago;
Your eyes still reflect the light from our first holy home.
Search your spirit’s memories, before the light grows dim;
Store those visions in your heart while the veil is thin.

Verse 2: Tell me of that blessed place, what do you recall?
Forests, gardens, brooks, and fields? Bright celestial halls?
Rivers falling to the sea; shores where breezes blow?
Flowers like soft jewels in the woods; mountains white with snow?
Is the sunset rosy grey, lighting gates like pearls?
Do lamps beckon travelers home to that forgotten world?

Verse 3: Now do you remember, child, when we lived as friends?
Where we learned our Savior’s plan: love that shall not end—
Justice satisfied through grace; mercy lights the way;
We will work to learn His laws; we gratefully obey.
There, before the dawn of time, we accepted Him,
Someday, reunited, we will raise our grateful hymn.

Coda: Souviens-toi, mon enfant
What do you remember, child?
Always remember Him.

Here’s the original French:

Souviens-Toi

Souviens-toi, mon enfant: Tes parents divins
te serraient dans leurs bras, ce temps n’est pas loin.
Aujourd’hui, tu es là, présent merveilleux,
ton regard brille encore du reflet des cieux.
Parle-moi, mon enfant, de ces lieux bénis
car pour toi est léger le voile d’oubli.

Souviens-toi, mon enfant des bois, des cités.
Pouvons-nous ici-bas les imaginer?
Et le ciel jusqu’au soir, est-il rose ou gris ?
Le soleil attend-il la neige ou la pluie?
Conte-moi, mon enfant, la couleur des prés
et le chant des oiseaux d’un monde oublié.

Souviens-toi, mon enfant : A l’aube des temps,
nous étions des amis jouant dans le vent.
Puis un jour, dans la joie nous avons choisi
d’accepter du Seigneur le grand plan de vie.
Ce soir-là, mon enfant, nous avons promis
par l’amour, par la foi, d’être réunis.

Small Observations, Wondrous World

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it

–boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.–Goethe

Write something–add a small observation about your world.–Atul Gawande

Here we begin some small observations about my world, all in the spirit of sisterly kindness and encouragement. I don’t claim genius, power, or magic at this point (sorry, Goethe), but I begin with what you might call tentative boldness–join me on the journey as we explore together! As we read and think about what our dreams are, we can not only experience life twice through writing, as Anaïs Nin suggested, but also have a vision of hope as we press forward with steadfast faith.