This season the Utah Shakespearean Festival (which was founded 48 years ago by the honored Fred Adams) began in the first week of July 2009. The roster of plays and the company of actors offer the playgoer a unique and thrilling theatrical experience. This Tony Award-winning theatre has long been a stepping stone for actors to go on to Broadway and beyond. This season features a wonderful array of plays and talent; it is one of the best that I have seen.
In the smaller, and beautiful, indoor Randal Jones Theatre there are three plays performing in repertory. The first is Foxfire, which was born out of the Foxfire books, a series which encouraged the exploration and the embracing of one’s family history and traditions in order to illuminate one’s own life. The play was written by Susan Cooper and Hume Cronyn and originally starred Jessica Tandy in the leading role, earning her the Drama Desk Award for Best Performance by an Actress. Well, the Festival has found an actress up for the part, the brilliant Joyce Cohen, who delivers a moving and strong performance as Annie Nations. She gets strong support from the crusty Will Zahrn as her deceased husband Hector and from John Bison, an LA favorite. in the Keith Carradine role of the son. Utah’s casting director Kathleen F. Conlin does a standup job of capturing the delicacy of the material.
The Secret Garden, a musical with a book by Marsha Norman and music by Lucy Simon, is the second offering in the Randal Jones. The musical is, of course, based on the famous novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The story is one of those gothic romances, with a lost little girl whose parents have died, a reclusive uncle who is pining away for his dead wife, a mean uncle who wants to steal the inheritance and plots to get rid of his brother, and a surviving boy (locked in a dark room no doubt). The key to the whole thing is a lost garden that at one time belonged to the deceased wife, and its renewal by the little girl Mary, along with the return home of the grieving brother Archibald, the exile of the mean brother Neville, and the recovery of Archibald’s son who had been given up as dying. The story is moving and the music evocative, with lush romantic songs, and the performances strong, especially by Summer Sloan as Mary, Katie Whetsell as the housemaid, the adorable Nikaiya DeBirk as the young boy, and Brian Vaughn as the evil uncle. My only beef with this show is the presence of all those dead figures from India whom I found distracting. I also thought that Ben Cherry as Archibald might have found more levels. Jim Christian was the director.