'Shakespeare in Love' makes it to the stage at Utah Shakespeare Festival

It's fitting that as the Utah Shakespeare Festival enters its 56th season that one of the first plays is about the man himself.

"Shakespeare in Love" is known by many as an Academy Award-winning film starring Gwyneth Paltrow. The actor playing William Shakespeare is quite honestly forgettable nearly 20 years on. (It was Joseph Fiennes by the way.)

But in the Utah Shakespeare Festival telling of the story, Shakespeare stands out. Quinn Mattfield becomes the Bard, who is struggling with writer's block and an inferiority complex due to another writer, Christopher "Kit" Marlowe.

He is not the Shakespeare that we all know.

As he struggles to write "Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter," he casts the play not knowing how it will even end. But it is supposed to be a comedy.

Inspiration comes though Viola, who aspires to be an actor but can't through Elizabethan England rules. Her love of Shakespeare's earlier work shines through as she auditions as Thomas Kent and secures the role of Romeo.

Shakespeare's play slowly turns from comedy to tragedy as he continues to work with Kent, eventually discovering she is in fact Viola de Lesseps and engaged. But of course, they've already fallen in love.

More complications arise, especially in the second act, where the performance gets a bit messy. The first half was held strong by the setup and the performances of Mattfield and Betsy Mugavero as Viola/Kent.

Removing some of the complications or even just simplifying them could have made for a better play. But it was still enjoyable and explains, even if fictional, how "Romeo and Juliet" came to be and tells a bit more about the man Shakespeare himself.

Watching "Shakespeare in Love" the first night and then seeing the inspired "Romeo and Juliet" seemed appropriate.

While it's arguably Shakespeare's most well known story, certain productions, such as the one at this year's Utah Shakespeare Festival, make it stand out as one of the classics of English literature.

As the story goes, Romeo and Juliet fall in love despite their families' ongoing feud. In this production in particular, the youthfulness of the characters helped highlight their love story.

Mugavero shines again, but this time as Juliet, while Shane Kenyon plays Romeo. At first, Kenyon's Romeo fell flat but the moments of youthful excitement about his great love made it apparent he was the right casting choice.

After all, both Romeo and Juliet are only teenagers, a fact that is often forgotten in other productions of the play.

For those wanting lighter fare, the Utah Shakespeare Festival is also featuring two other Shakespeare plays, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "As You Like It." And while not officially Shakespeare, there is also the production of "William Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play (abridged)."

In addition to Shakespeare, this season's festival also includes "Guys and Dolls," "How to Fight Loneliness," "The Tavern" and "Treasure Island."

"The Greenshow" remains a staple of the festival, performed before evening productions at the Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre. However, if you've attended previous "Greenshows," don't expect this to be like years past. It's watered down and not the best appetizer before a show inside the Engelstad.

The 2017 season runs through Oct. 21 with a few shows premiering later in the season, including "Long Lost First Play" July 28, "How to Fight Loneliness" Aug. 25 and "The Tavern" Sept. 19.

Already looking ahead to 2018? The Utah Shakespeare Festival recently announced next season's productions of "Henry VI Part One" -- following "Henry V" in 2016, along with Shakespeare's "Othello," "Merry Wives of Windsor" and "The Merchant of Venice." 2018 will also feature "Big River," "The Liar," "The Foreigner" and "Pearl's in the House."

For more information and tickets, check out the Utah Shakespeare Festival's website. All plays are performed in Cedar City on the Southern Utah University campus at various venues.

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