The Utah Shakespeare Festival includes both works by Shakespeare and works by other playwrights in each season’s selections. While in Cedar City for the festival’s summer 2011 season we saw matinee performances of three non-Shakespeare works at the Randall L. Jones Theatre, built in 1989.
The first was “The Glass Menagerie” by playwright Tennessee Williams, the tale of a mother and two grown children still living at home. It’s set in 1937 St. Louis, which might feel world’s apart were it not for the opening monologue delivered by Ben Jacoby, who performs the role of Tom Wingfield. He makes clear the parallels between then and now, including tough economic times.
The second was “Noises Off!” by playwright Michael Frayn, who breaks the tale of actors performing in a British adult farce into three acts — showing a different perspective of how the farce “Nothing On” unfolds in each act. We see the actors, each with a host of personal and professional shortcomings, stumble through a final rehearsal and two jumbled performances (witnessing one as it unfolds backstage).
The third was “The Music Man,” based on a story by Meredith Wilson and Franklin Lacey. The musical features book, music and lyrics by Meredith Wilson. It recounts the tale of a traveling con man who makes a living selling musical instruments to parents who fear their children might otherwise discover darker pursuits like playing pool.
In each case, the comedy was simply exquisite. It helps to start with great material, I suppose. Quinn Mattfeld, who performs the role of Garry Lejeune in “Noises Off!,” delivered one of the best comedic performances I’ve ever seen. I ran into Mattfeld before Friday evening’s performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (another comedy honed to perfection by festival actors and artistic staff) and asked about how such a fabulous bit of funny comes to be.
Mattfeld gives playwrights at least half the credit, noting that directors and actors make up the balance of the mix. True magic happens on stage when the best writing meets the best direction and acting. Other artistic elements contribute too — choreography, costumes, props, lighting, sound and such.
Each of the six productions we saw at this year’s Utah Shakespeare Festival appeared both flawless and effortless. Attention to detail is evident at every level, as is thinking beyond the boundaries of what you might imagine for any given scene or production. It’s these qualities that make each work fresh, even for those of us who have seen them performed time and time again.
Coming up: More Shakespeare on Valley stages, Who let the “CATS” out?, National Youth Arts Awards, Bugged out!