Information, reviews, and miscellaneous shorts focusing on professional, nonprofit theater—from a Southeast Minnesota perspective.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Great River Shakespeare Festival, Season 6

Great River Shakespeare Festival

Winona, Minnesota

The 6th season of the Great River Shakespeare Festival has begun with previews and openings of both plays, Love’s Labour’s Lost and The Tempest, occurring over the past weekend. Neither of these plays are on the list of “Shakespeare blockbusters,” if there were such a list, but they offer intriguing looks at Shakespeare early and late. Each play offers unique creative challenges for the actors, directors, and designers, but as with most Shakespeare, ample opportunity for physical comedy, romance, dramatic tension, clever wordplay, and theatrical spectacle.

In each of the preceding seasons, much local advertising has focused on the accessibility of GRSF’s presentations and the appeal of these plays to a broad cross section of Minnesotans, even to Joe the Plumbers. This seems to be the message again this year as the Festival markets two lesser known plays in a year where the festival has had to significantly cut its production budget. The message is summed up in an article posted on the GRSF website and printed inside the program that declares “You don’t need to know much in advance” to appreciate our productions. A version of this same article was e-mailed to patrons last week. As this article points out, Shakespeare generally provides much of the back story in the opening two scenes, and this back story is all an audience member needs to know.

Much Shakespeare is filled with jokes and references that most of us are not likely to catch—because they are dated, not because we’re not smart! (For example, the expression “hiking the Appalachian Trail” might be culturally witty this month, an interesting reference in a couple of years, but totally meaningless 10 years from now—let alone 400 years.) Scholars can often get to the bottom of dated references in Shakespeare, but the rest of us can simply enjoy what we do find humorous or poignant and not worry about what we might be missing.

Over the past 5 years, the Great River Shakespeare festival has demonstrated its ability and commitment to both remain faithful to the text and to make the plays alive and vibrant for a modern audience. Perhaps in the Festival’s first year I was cautious about urging everyone I knew to attend the play. I was pretty sure that I would enjoy the plays, but I was afraid others might find the plays too hard to follow, too stuffy, too wordy, or too long. But every GRSF production that I’ve seen has convinced me that Shakespeare is meant to be enjoyed by everyone.

The Tempest and Love’s Labour’s Lost play in repertory through July 26
Visit the Great River Shakespeare Festival for schedules and tickets:

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