The Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s two 2013 mainstage outdoor offerings could not be more different. But they do have one thing in common (and I don’t mean that shared unit set): There are moments in both when I sat agape, asking myself, “Did they really just go there?”
Oh, yes, they did.
The moment comes in director Geoffrey Kent’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” when Lysander (Sean Scrutchins) first encounters an unsuspecting Hermia after being put under a mistaken spell that makes him, to put it mildly, not love his lover anymore. In this production, Hermia is played by a lovely actress (Jenna Bainbridge) who sometimes walks with a cane. That’s all I’m saying … but the audible gasp that followed the moment was an all but unprecedented exchange of visceral, immediate emotional energy between the audience and any live performance on the Mary Rippon stage.
(OK, I’ll say one more thing: If Lysander is put under a spell, it stands to perfect reason that it would bring out a corresponding reversal in passion in him to match the level of true and honest love he felt for her before the spell. And that’s really all I’m saying about that.)
Last night’s opening of “Macbeth” brought much higher real-world stakes to the stage. Director Jane Page sets the story in 1980s war-ravaged Afghanistan. And while I would have preferred that if she were going to go there, that she force us to consider the more immediate moral consequences of the United States’ ongoing conflict with Afghanistan rather than Russia’s, still … what results is the kind of shocking collision between art and real-world relevance that, let’s face it, we don’t typically look to 400-year old plays in Boulder to provide us.
There is a moment in the second act, both completely fair and yet monstrously cruel, that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and run away. And it still hasn’t come out of hiding. There are a dozen other choices Page could have made in this moment, but not if she were to be true to what “Macbeth” means in the world she has embraced. As abhorrently inappropriate as it would have been, I really wanted to stand up and cheer. For the boldness of the moment. For the future of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.
When I walked to my car after the end of “Midsummer,” I remember simply thinking, “That was a lot of fun.” Not an elitist, hoity-toity, “My, what a pleasant regalement that was.” I mean … fun. Then I thought, “When was the last time I had fun at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival?” And if you even have to ask yourself that question, there’s a problem.
Last night, as I was leaving “Macbeth,” I wondered, “When was the last time the Colorado Shakespeare Festival surprised and shocked me? Like … to the core?” That, I can tell you … It was Chip Persons’ “Richard III” in 2002. But that discombobulation was born from the mastery of the performance. This was born from the mastery of the performances combined with an abrupt, confrontational interjection on the real horror of war, and our still miserably current place in it.
You know all the cliches: Theater should provoke, it should entertain. It should move you and it should shake you.
In the summer of 2013, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival is a mover and a shaker … And when’s the last time you said that?
COLORADO SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL
Mary Rippon Amphitheatre and University Mainstage, CU-Boulder campus, 303-492-0554 or colorado shakes’ home page
Through Aug. 10, 2013: “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” (indoors)
Through Aug. 10, 2013: “Macbeth” (in the Mary Rippon outdoor Amphitheatre)
Through Aug. 11, 2013: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (in the Mary Rippon outdoor Amphitheatre)
July 12-13, 2013: “Women of Will: The Overview” (indoors)
July 18-August 11, 2013: “Richard II” (indoors)
How you can donate to the Denver Actors Fund
The new Denver Actors Fund is a modest source of immediate, situational relief when members of the local theater community find themselves in sudden medical need. Photo by John Moore. To donate to the Denver Actors Fund, please go here (with our humble thanks):