The Illinois Shakespeare Festival and new artistic director John C. Stark have just announced what's in store for the summer of 2018, with all kinds of intriguing developments on the horizon.
The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare's domestic comedy about frisky housewives, their husbands and how they interact with Falstaff, a rowdy, blustering rascal, will open the Festival on Friday, July 5. The Merry Wives of Windsor was last performed at the Festival in 2010, in a sparkling production set in the 1920s. Deanna Jent, whose play Falling moved from St. Louis to New York with great acclaim and then back to Normal at Heartland Theatre, will direct this Merry Wives, which will get the theater at Ewing to itself that first week. Jent is an alumna of Illinois Wesleyan University, a professor of theatre at Fontbonne University, and artistic director of the Mustard Seed Theatre in St. Louis. This is her first directing assignment at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival.
The second play in the line-up, Henry V, the stirring "once more unto the breach" history play, wherein (spoiler alert) the same Falstaff we saw in Merry Wives kicks the bucket. Off-stage, though. Henry V was last staged here in 2007. This time, the immensely talented Karen Kessler, who directed the only production of The Taming of the Shrew I ever liked, set in 1950s Little Italy, will be at the helm of Henry V. It's set to open one week after Merry Wives, on July 12, also at the theater at Ewing Cultural Center.
And the third play, which will be performed on campus at the Illinois State University Center for the Performing Arts, bows on July 19. This one will be one of the most popular plays of 2017, Shakespeare in Love, adapted by Lee Hall from the screenplay of the Oscar-winning film by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard. It will be directed by Marti Lyons, another IWU alum and another in-demand director with credits ranging from Lookingglass and Chicago Shakespeare in the Windy City to Actors Theatre of Louisville's Humana Festival of New American Plays. Shakespeare in Love premiered on stage in London in 2014. Its North American premiere took place last year at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, and it's been going gangbusters across the United States ever since.
In addition to the staggered start indicated above, Illinois Shakes' managing director William Prenevost announced that changes are in the works across the ticketing side of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. Subscription choices, seating levels and prices are getting a makeover, online ordering will be added, and the special perks that used to come with Platinum Plus tickets will now be offered to Illinois Shakespeare Festival Society members, as the Platinum Plus level of tickets is phased into plain old Platinum. All the details will be unveiled on the Illinois Shakes website as we get closer to the summer season.