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Shakespeare Fest: You'll Laugh, You'll Cry,
You'll Thoroughly Enjoy

Story by Mindy Mendolsohn
Photos by M.L. Russell

Shakespeare Sedona is in the middle of only its third season, yet already it has achieved an international acclaim and is being compared to its older brethren. This comparison includes the famed Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada.

One of last season's audience surveys stated "A few days after seeing your production (Much Ado About Nothing), we saw the Stratford Festival's production. F.Y.I., in our opinion, your production was on par with theirs."

Once you have seen one of Shakespeare Sedona's productions, it is clear why such comparisons are being made. Their artistic excellence establishes them as a gem among the red rocks. This year's productions of

Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night are no exception. Romeo and Juliet Director Patrick Page promised a fresh look at this timeless classic, and it comes as no surprise that he has once again delivered. His interpretation clearly delineates the powerful swiftness in which the tragedy occurs.

The time span written within the play is a mere four days. In this brief period, we see the two star-crossed lovers meet, marry, and, in desperation, take their lives. Page's production seems to move extremely quickly, yet in reality takes two hour and 45 minutes. The play serves as an all too poignant reminder of how our lives can change in an instant.
Sun Mee Chomet's characterization makes clear to the audience the youth of Juliet. Shakespeare wrote the character as a young girl, not quite yet 14 years of age. In the short time span that this play covers, we see her grow from an untouched girl into a married woman.

Cloistered in her family life, this is her first taste of love, and it carries with it all of the sweet fragrance of youth. In contrast, Michael Milligan's Romeo journeys from a young man in love with a romantic image of what love should be to a man in love with a woman.

The set for Romeo and Juliet is stark, yet fully supported by both the richness of the Bard's language and the immensely talented cast. The unadorned setting lends power to the catastrophe that we are all aware the players are hurling toward from the opening moments. The fights, which are choreographed by J. Steven White, are frighteningly real but seem almost ballet-like in their beauty.

The quintessential comedy Twelfth Night stands in lush opposition to the rawness of Romeo and Juliet. Directors Lisa Wolpe and Sarah Hickler have set the tale in a Balinese-like splendor. Opulent in tone, Twelfth Night brims with unbridled laughter, sumptuous settings and a wicked sensuality.

This hilarious saga begins as twins Sebastian and Viola are separated in a shipwreck - each believing the other drowned. In order to protect herself, Viola disguises herself as a man (Cesario) and places herself in the court of Duke Orsino. She falls madly in love with him, he hires her to woo the Countess Olivia for him, and Olivia in turn falls in love with Cesario (Viola disguised).

Meanwhile, cavorting around in Olivia's household is a fun-loving knight in love with Olivia's gentlewoman, Maria, a foolish knight in love with courtship, a groomsman in love with sport , and a steward in love with his high opinion of himself. Traveling between these various households is Feste, the fool, who sings, soothes, prods, challenges, and makes fun of all of those in the throes of love's madness.

As Hickler and Wolpe say in their director's notes, "The line between folly and fantasy, reality and sanity, shifts like an ever changing shoreline."

Comic pranksters Ted Barton and Hamilton Mitchell are together again and as lively as ever. Last year, this dynamic duo delivered several side splitting scenes in Much Ado About Nothing. This year, along with Cindy Gold (as Maria), William Leach (Malvolio) and Carson Elrod (Feste), they wrap the audience in a magical spell of zany proportions.

The show is a visual feast. Luscious costumes, a carnival atmosphere, and a graceful backdrop lull the viewer into believing that we are on a tropical island rather than the high desert. The experience is absolutely delicious from the pre-show music to the final bow.

As in the past two seasons, most actors are pulling double duty and appearing in both shows. For example, Broadway veteran William Leach plays both the compassionate Friar Lawrence and the social climbing Malvolio. Carson Elrod is both the cynical Mercutio and the fun loving Feste. Anthony Mackie plays the level headed Benvolio and the incurable romantic, Duke Orsino.

In Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night, along with the hilarious A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Shakespeare Sedona lives up to the promise of its first two seasons. As audience members, what you get to see are phenomenally gifted actors strutting their stuff with style. Make time in your schedule to attend these exquisite shows.

Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night play in rotation at Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village throughout the month of July.

Tickets are available by calling Sedona Cultural Park at 1-800-780-ARTS or 203-4TIX.

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