The announcement has been made, and we now know what will be playing when the Illinois Shakespeare Festival begins again next summer. This time, Festival Artistic Director Kevin Rich has created an integrated line-up, with two Shakespeare choices that link together through the third, Timothy Findley's Elizabeth Rex, which imagines Queen Elizabeth I taking a breather in the barn where Shakespeare and his players are lingering after a performance. They've just performed Much Ado About Nothing, which will also be on the Illinois Shakespeare Festival bill, and we see William Shakespeare in the midst of writing Antony and Cleopatra, which is the other show chosen for next summer. Ta da! All tied up neatly with a bow, and one of the best uses of repertory, overlapping themes and shared cast ever.
Husband-and-wife directors Jonathan West and Paula Suozzi, who have extensive credits in Milwaukee, will direct Much Ado and Elizabeth Rex, while Rich will take on directorial duties for Antony and Cleopatra himself. Much Ado was last seen at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival in 2007, while you'll have to go all the way to 1991 to find Antony and Cleopatra.
Here's how the Festival breaks down next year's offerings:
ELIZABETH REX, by Timothy Findley
Directed by Paula Suozzi
This brilliant, award-winning play imagines Queen Elizabeth spending the eve of her lover’s execution in the company of William Shakespeare and his players. Seeking distraction from her grief, she watches Much Ado About Nothing and afterward, banters with Beatrice about identity, sexuality and love. Meanwhile, Shakespeare is writing a new play called Antony and Cleopatra – about a Queen’s tragic affair with her lover – which Elizabeth finds suspiciously familiar. Elizabeth Rex will be performed in repertory with both of these Shakespearean plays, making a trilogy of uniquely connected productions that cannot be missed.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, by William Shakespeare
Directed by Jonathan West
Messina’s soldiers have returned from victory abroad to discover new battles at home! Sworn bachelor Benedick and his fiery counterpart Beatrice engage in a war of words and wit while their friends watch their attraction grow stronger with every skirmish. Meanwhile, Claudio plans to wed his true love Hero, unaware of the villainous Don John’s desire to foil his plans. Will these battles end in victory? Our hilarious production has the answers – and a whole lot more – featuring the same actors who play these parts in Elizabeth Rex.
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, by William Shakespeare
Directed by Kevin Rich
Shakespeare’s epic portrayal of Mark Antony’s intoxication with the stunning Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. Drunk with passion, the Roman war hero and leader neglects his duties back home, ignores prophecies, and enrages his former allies by choosing Egypt and its beautiful ruler while the Roman Empire hangs in the balance. When Octavius Caesar turns on Antony, is his attack on Egypt enough to rouse the smitten soldier into action? Often requested and seldom performed, this production is as enchanting as its Queen. In our repertory, Cleopatra will be played by the same actress who plays Queen Elizabeth in Elizabeth Rex.
I am loathe to suggest I called this combination, because, well, I didn't. Last time I was making guesses, I went with Twelfth Night and Julius Caesar. But back when I reviewed Elizabeth Rex at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, I did include this little addendum:
As a side note, I would love to see Elizabeth Rex played in repertory with Much Ado About Nothing, which begins this play, and Antony and Cleopatra, which is supposedly being written during this play, with some of the same actors who are supposedly playing roles in Much Ado taking those roles in Much Ado, and the actor we see as Benedick and reading a few of Antony's lines taking those roles, too. Maybe we should even throw in A Winter's Tale, so the bear has something else to do?
With three plays in the Festival's rotation, there's no room for A Winter's Tale, but the other three are represented, so... Great minds think alike?