I don't know about you, but I'm more than ready for summer Shakespeare now. I love the Illinois Shakespeare Festival at beautiful Ewing Manor, and with ticket sales starting very soon, I can dream ahead of balmy nights under the stars watching a little bit of the Bard.
This summer, the ISF will offer a new "Romeo and Juliet," a fresh take on "The Winter's Tale," and redo of the Reduced Shakespeare Company's "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)."
"The Complete Works," which is sometimes also referred to as "The Compleat Wks of Wllm Shkspr" or other odd spellings to indicate its abbreviated nature, will open this summer's Festival on June 23. It will once again be directed by Bill Jenkins, who took the reins in 2008 when the show last appeared on the Shakes Fest schedule. I've heard it through the grapevine that David Kortemeier and Thomas Anthony Quinn will once again play two of the three roles in the show, although I don't know whether Jenkins will also bring back the trailer trash setting. When I saw "The Complete Works" with a touring version of the Reduced Shakespeare Company at U of I way back when, it didn't use a mobile home, mullets or characters out of "You Might Be a Redneck." Those additions worked just fine in 08, so Jenkins may very well return to the Good Ol' Boy well.
I have to say, I think it's odd to bring the show back this quickly, as funny as it is. I have a feeling it's all about box office for this one -- if it was wildly popular before, I guess it makes sense to revive it and run with it. I'd rather see more real Shakespeare, but... I'm not paying their bills, am I?
"Romeo and Juliet," directed by Doug Finlayson, is scheduled to open June 24. Everybody knows the plot of "Romeo and Juliet," right? If not, you can always pop "Shakespeare in Love" in your DVD player to get an introduction. Or "West Side Story." Staging your own little "Romeo and Juliet" film fest isn't a bad idea, even if you've seen "Romeo and Juliet" and its tale of romantic woe a million times.
I have seen it at the Shakespeare Festival before, in a production that was purported to be all about the heat in Verona and how it inflamed everyone's passions. It didn't really work out that way, but I have high hopes Findlayson and his cast will find their way this time.
The last show on the roster is "The Winter's Tale," directed by ISF Artistic Director Deb Alley. This one is a curious play about King Leontes and his sudden, quite irrational case of jealousy. He cannot or will not be dissuaded from the notion that his wife, Hermione, is cheating on him with another king named Polixenes. That sends a series of strange events into motion, including predictions from an Oracle, an abandoned child named Perdita (which means "lost") who is raised by a kindly shepherd, a statue who isn't really a statue who comes to life, and what may be Shakespeare's most famous stage direction ("Exit, pursued by a bear"). How will the ISF create a bear? Puppet, actor in a bear outfit, real bear on loan from the zoo, rippling fabric, video projection or something I haven't thought of?
The Illinois Shakespeare Festival will also offer free, shortened performances of "Twelfth Night" intended for young audiences(tickets are free but reservations are required), "Shakespeare Experience" summer camps, jazz and live music nights, special speed dating, scavenger hunt and wine tasting Tuesdays, post-show talk-backs and ice cream socials, and backstage tours. For information on educational options, visit this page, while this one will guide you through your pre-show and post-show choices.
If you're a member of the Illinois Shakespeare Society, you're already eligible to buy your ISF tickets. Everybody else can pick up the phone or visit the Shakes Fest website to get a jump on those tickets next Monday, on January 31.