The Colorado Shakespeare Festival wraps up its 2016 season this weekend on the University of Colorado Boulder campus. To see if you can still score a ticket, call 303-492-8008 or go to coloradoshakes.org. Read our capsule reviews of three of this season's shows, all still playing.
The Comedy of Errors. Egeon of Syracuse turns up in Ephesus searching for his lost son, Antipholus, and his son’s servant, Dromio — or, in this production of The Comedy of Errors, directed by Geoffrey Kent for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, his lost daughter, Antiphola, and her servant, Dromia. Setting foot in Ephesus is death for any Syracusan, however. Confronted by the Duke of Ephesus and forced to plead for his life, Egeon tells his story of two sets of twins: one set lost, along with his wife, in a shipwreck, the other set searching for the first. Touched by Egeon’s story, the duke gives him time to come up with the money to save his life. Identical twins and lots of complications form the plot, with Antipholas being mistaken for each other; Dromias given orders and delivering results to the wrong mistresses, who respond with predictable fury; Ephesus Antiphola’s husband, Adriano, beginning to seethe with jealousy at his wife’s inexplicable behavior; and Syracuse’s unmarried Antiphola falling for Luciano, her twin’s brother-in law, to both his and Adriano’s consternation. Kent’s focus is on farce, with high-energy, high-spirited characterizations, absurd improvisations and dozens of zany touches. He has set the action in 1930s Paris, gleefully and knowingly deploying every cheesy cliché you can think of: Edith Piaf songs, cafe tables tended by shirt-sleeved waiters, baguettes, cancan dancing and a strolling accordionist – Alicia Baker, whose skilled musicianship adds greatly to the pleasure of the production. Some of the bits are deliberately silly, some downright inspired. Egeon is treated to a long, drawn-out demonstration of the beheading that awaits him, starting with a menacingly raised ax and ending with an anti-climactic pop; a horde of rampaging men in white arrive to carry one of the Antipholas off to the madhouse, but she’s a match for all of them; a goldsmith demanding payment is played by a real-life youngster who looks like the kind of knife-wielding little thug Fagin would have employed in Oliver Twist. The sex switches work brilliantly. It’s funny to hear Luciano, a man, praising men’s power and mastery over women in the obedient tones of a traditional, patient Griselda, and when Stephen Cole Hughes, playing Adriano, laments in his strong, masculine voice, “Since that my beauty cannot please her eye/I’ll weep what’s left away and weeping die,” it’s flat-out hilarious. Read the full review of The Comedy of Errors.
Equivocation. At the intermission of Equivocation, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s traditional non-Shakespeare-but-related-to-Shakespeare offering this summer, I thought the play brilliant: inventive, original, deeply clever and on a daring and constant teeter-totter between tragedy and comedy. Playwright Bill Cain postulates that William Shakespeare (Shagspeare or Shag here) is summoned by Sir Robert Cecil to write a play about the Gunpowder Plot — the notorious conspiracy to blow up the Houses of Parliament, and with them the sitting king, James I. The task is fraught and its ethics murky. The Gunpowder Plot was hatched by Catholics, and Catholics had been viciously persecuted in England. What’s the truth about this plot? Shag wonders. Is it possible that the reality differs from the story being told? How is that story being used by James to further his own purposes? And also by Robert Cecil, who may know far more than he lets on? And what about the terrible tortures endured by the captured conspirators and the gruesome executions awaiting them? Can he write about that? Because if he offends the king, Shag is likely to end up in prison himself. The idea that governments manipulate reality, the danger of speaking truth to power, the winking allusions to torture — all of these make Equivocation very contemporary, and despite the many threads, everything coheres in the first act. But in the second, the play becomes talky and diffuse. We meet Father Henry Garnet, the virtuous priest accused of helping foment the Gunpowder Plot, and he and Shag conduct a long and interesting discussion about truth, deception and equivocation. King James, whom we met briefly in act one, moves to the fore, watching the production of the newly penned Macbeth that Shag, in his own act of equivocation, has switched for the Gunpowder Plot play because it does the necessary job of indirectly excoriating the king’s enemies and praising his legitimacy. Unfortunately, the parodied segments from Macbeth are long, shrill and not remotely funny. But there are still moments of pleasure to be had, and the ending, movingly performed by Collins with just the right mixture of toughness and vulnerability, is a joy. Read the full review of Equivocation.
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Troilus and Cressida. The title Troilus and Cressida promises a love story, but this is love gone sour. In the early scenes between the couple, Cressida’s uncle Pandarus, who’s responsible for bringing the two together, takes most of the focus. Cressida’s declaration of love when she’s finally alone with Troilus is so brief that you don’t have time to figure out if it’s sincere. Which is important, because Cressida gets sent away from Troy to the Greek camp, and once there, she soon betrays Troilus. Is she just weak and vacillating, an opportunist, incapable of controlling her lust, or a strong woman doing what she needs to do to survive in a hostile place? Shakespeare leaves her motives ambiguous. But most of the action concerns the war. The great warriors of Greek myth are all present — Ajax, Agamemnon, Achilles, Ulysses — sometimes seeming wise and admirable, at other times squabbling and petty. The only fully heroic figure is the Trojan Hector — a formidable fighter, yet also chivalrous, even at times unexpectedly gentle. The Greek Achilles, called on to fight Hector, skulks in his tent with his lover Patroclus, allowing Ajax, a cloth-headed ox, to take the field. When Achilles, enraged by the death of Patroclus, finally rouses himself to a stinging attack, he achieves victory over Hector through a vicious and cowardly trick. Is beautiful Helen, the cause of the war, worth all the dying? Hector thinks not, and argues that she should be sent home. It makes sense, then, that the fool Thersites and slimy Pandarus seem to represent the play’s ultimate conclusions: War is dumb, dirty and dishonorable, honor a slippery thing, love meaningless, and sex nasty and disease-ridden. Still, director Carolyn Howarth has put together a lively production that moves forward to a martial beat and swarms with interesting, eccentric characters. Read the full review of Troilus and Cressida here.