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Pop culture junkie, native of Las Vegas, not really a writer.
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Once more unto the breach, dear friends!

Southern Utah University (SUU) in the pretty little town of Cedar City, Utah is home to the Tony award winning Utah Shakespearean Festival every summer. It’s only a two and a half hour drive from Las Vegas but despite its nearness, I’ve been shamefully neglecting it for years. I rectified this sad error over the past weekend by driving up to see two plays: Henry V and The Secret Garden (they put on six plays per year, a mixture of Shakespeare and classics/contemporary).

I do love the short drive up to Cedar City. You get to travel through the Virgin River Gorge which is one of the most expensive parts of interstate highway every constructed due to the blasting that was necessary to get through the rock. It consists of several miles of twisty road with the canyon walls towering over you in shades of red, tan, brown, and pink. Although the colors to be seen in the daytime are impressive, it’s even better to drive at night when there is little traffic and you can ignore lane dividers and cruise right through it!

I drove up Saturday morning in time to arrive for the 2:00pm performance of The Secret Garden. It’s a musical adaptation of the beloved Frances Hodgson Burnett children’s classic. It was one of my favorite books growing up and I still read it every few years or so. The production design was spare, with minimal sets and props but beautifully painted backdrops to evoke India and the gardens at Misselthwaite Manor. It required you to use your imagination but also allowed you to focus more on the dialogue and lyrics. There is an interesting device used throughout the play where the ghosts of the dead characters appear as a sort of “Greek Chorus” to propel the action of the play along. There were some significant changes from the book to create more dramatic tension between the characters but it worked. The acting was excellent, especially the children playing Mary and Colin, and the songs were delightful.

After that play I went and checked into my hotel and then decided to get some dinner before seeing Henry V that night. I used Yelp.com and found a restaurant only blocks away from the campus called The Garden House. Fitting, no? Even though I was only one person, there was a wait to be seated. It seemed like a pretty popular spot for festival attendees to dine and it was a Saturday. As I was waiting, a party of six came in and I was surprised to see the actor Brian Vaughn who had just performed as Dr. Craven in The Secret Garden amongst the group. I was surprised because I knew he was playing King Henry in the performance of Henry V that I was going to be seeing in about two hours! It’s amazing to me that these festival actors who perform several days a week, often two plays in one day, can have the energy to go out to dinner with friends in between! Brian Vaughn has been performing in the festival for over fifteen years. He actually attended college at SUU in the early 90s while I was in high school and once my theater department attended a Thespian Conference at SUU where I got to see him play Billy Flynn in the college’s production of Chicago. As we all waited for our tables, I fell into conversation with the group and relayed that anecdote while he shook his head in disbelief. That was so very long ago! They were a very nice group of people and I enjoyed chatting with them before finally being seated for dinner.
After dinner I made it to the festival grounds in time to catch the tail end of the Greenshow that goes on each night before the main performances. It’s bawdy good fun and I bought a few lollipops in the shape of Shakespeare’s head from the “wenches” that walk around with baskets of goodies on their arms.

At 8pm was the performance of Henry V. I chose this play because it was being performed in the Adams Memorial Shakespearean Theatre which is an open air replica of the Globe Theatre. Cedar City is at an elevation of 5,800 ft so it’s considerably cooler than Vegas. Seeing a play outdoors there at night is gorgeous, although bring a sweater because once the sun goes down completely, it can get a little chilly. Henry V was great to see live. Again it’s all about the imagination in this one, with the narrator urging you to follow with your mind as the actors journey from England to France, “Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them printing their proud hoofs i’ th’ receiving earth; For ‘tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings, carry them here and there, jumping o’er times, turning th’ accomplishment of many years into an hour glass.” Brian Vaughn played King Henry with great command but with a delightful twinkle in his eyes that imparted the presence of the younger and playful Prince Hal that must still dwell somewhere within the now powerful King. The side characters were equally charmingly played and the hours spent in their midst, under the stars, went quickly.

The next morning I woke early, checked out of my dumpy cheap hotel and drove 40 minutes out of my way up to Cedar Breaks National Monument. I had breakfast at the lodge and then visited the monument itself, standing on the precipice as a cold bracing wind tried to blow me back from it. I didn’t have the time to spend hiking the myriad trails, but I enjoyed the view for a while and then started on my journey home.

After rediscovering the festival over such a lovely weekend, I’m going to be sure to keep it up in years to come. Next year they are doing Much Ado About Nothing and Pride & Prejudice! Let me know if you want to join me!

I took lots of pictures with my iPhone camera. Here they are uploaded for your viewing pleasure.

This first set of five photos are from my drive through the Gorge. Yes they are shot through my windshield, while driving, that's why they are kind of crappy. No I was never in any danger. I'm an excellent driver.

This shot was taken from my seat at The Secret Garden before the play began. I really loved the white bouquet sitting on the empty stage with the blue lit curtains behind.

Flags flying over the festival.

Falstaff! Who wouldn't want to have a drink with him?

I took these next three shots of the Adams Theater in the afternoon.

This is a gnome in the garden of The Garden House restaurant.

The clock tower on the SUU campus at dusk.

These next two shots are of me entering the Globe Theater replica for the 8pm performance of Henry V.

And these two shots I took during the intermission, it is full dark now and the lights are so pretty outside the theater.

And now here are two shots of Cedar Breaks. Completely worth driving out of my way for - but COLD!

1 comment:

  1. Even my horror loving ass can appreciate good theater! I did the fest once sometimes in the early - mid 90s and had a blast (although I'd be hard pressed to remember what I saw). I actually went with Zoe and we somehow ended up in the front row and the lead actor was SO hot we kept giggling. I know he must have heard us, but did a wonderful performance despiste our annoyance. What a pro!

    St. George is beautiful. I used to drive through it all the time when I worked in Bryce Canyon. It's a lovely area and one I wouldn't mind seeing again.

    Glad you had a good time!


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