Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bard in a bathrobe?

Sun Valley Shakespeare Festival lets ‘The Tempest’ out

Express Staff Writer

Courtesy photos by Brett Moellenberg and Peter Burke

Freddie Harris wants to direct your attention to Shakespeare as you have never seen it performed in Sun Valley before.
    A doctorate-degree candidate in rhetoric, with emphasis in performance and discourse analysis, and with many years on and beside the stage, it’s this valley resident’s highest calling.
    In fact, before directing this year’s Shakespeare in the Park featuring “The Tempest,” she’s been spending time in the piney woods north of Ketchum teaching Shakespearean insults to kids 9 and up. After Camp Little Laugh, hurled around my house were lines like “You sanguine coward!” “You bed presser!” “You horseback breaker,” “You huge hill of flesh!” The lines were all aimed at my kids’ overweight white rabbit.
    And, from sister to sister: “I shall cut out your tongue!” then “Tis no matter, I shall speak as much wit as thou afterwards,” suggesting boundless dimwittery.
    If this woman, Harris, can teach young people to appreciate the hidden clues in Shakespearean text that make it easier to get your head around it, it’s likely she has a production worth attending, even if the Bard has been elusive before. For Harris, people should not just learn to say iambic pentameter, but should actually know what it means.
    The story is of a magician, Prospero, stranded on an island due to political machinations plotting to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place in the kingdom. He conjures “The Tempest,” a mighty storm to aid in his quest.
    Yet, as with every great Shakespearean romance, an act of revenge is triumphed by reconciliation and forgiveness.
    “Typically, we do comedies, with the exception of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ two years ago,” Harris said. “’The Tempest’ has been characterized like a tragedy in reverse.”
    Like the proverbial country song played backwards, “things start out sh**** and end up about self- awareness. He (Prospero) doesn’t get forgiven, but he does become self-aware,” Harris said. “I think self-awareness is something that many of us live with. We find out too late, but at least we find out.”   
    Shakespeare’s characters may have had a language alien to some, but they were always infinitely human, with the development of the story’s protagonist and evolution central to the plot.
    For this production starting Thursday, Aug. 15, Harris has assembled a stellar cast with Keith Moore, Patsy Wygle, Jana Arnold, Matt and Sara Gorby, Peter Burke, Brett Moellenberg, Harry Dreyfuss, Steve D. Smith, Jaime Wygle, Brooke Allen, Connor Wade, and Drake Arial. The stage manager is K.O. Olgilvie.
    Music will be played by Wade, live on mandolin, guitar, violin and ukulele. Songs include “The Island,” by the Decemberests; “Deep Water,” by Portishead; “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”; some Bob Dylan and new spins on old favorites.
    The youngest cast member, Brooke Allen, declares that this interpretation, while accessible, is by no means “dumbed down,” just packaged in both a familiar and interactive way as it was in the beginning.
    The nexStage Theatre production will be held in Forest Service Park in Ketchum, with places for picnics. The show will run from Aug. 15-18 and 22-25. Showtime is 6 p.m.
    As people stroll in, there will be activity designed to pre-stage the show, usually facilitated by the “clowns.” The clowns historically escort, rile and explain the plot. In this story, they are drunkards Trinculo and Stephano, played by the Gorbys and represented by a guy in a tank top and a woman in a bathrobe.
    Harris is devoted to bringing new audiences and wearied ones to understand and enjoy the world’s best-known playwright, but she’s also going back in time to re-create the work in the style most reminiscent of the time. The old box-seated hecklers in “The Muppet Show” are actually patterned after a Shakespeare presentation.
    Remember that subject in school that you couldn’t get, even with relentless bouts of summer school? And remember when one day, it all magically came together under the right teacher, one with a deep passion and commitment to bridging that gap?
    Even if you didn’t get it in high school, this is a chance to learn from someone who does more than teach—she does, and in so doing, makes this a glorious and introspective romp for a summer evening.
    For an alluring visual to tempt, see a preview video at

nexStage presents prose in the park
The play will be presented at 6 p.m. Aug. 15-18 and 22-25 on the outdoor stage in Ketchum Forest Service Park. Kids 16 and under get in free. Otherwise, tickets are $20 general admission.
Get tickets:
At the door, by calling 726-4857, or by visiting the nexStage Theatre box office at 120 S. Main St. in Ketchum.

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