Shakespeare festival doth congratulate itself too much

So now that I’ve had a chance to say lots of nice things about Cedar City’s Utah Shakespeare Festival (in a series of reviews and comments in last Friday’s Neon), I feel free to let loose on the one thing that bugs me to no end: the self-congratulatory opening-night speeches.

Ever notice these speeches rarely say anything? And if you listen to them all – Vegas is often just as guilty – you would think every production ever done is “electrifying” and “amazing.”

Case in point: At “To Kill a Mockingbird,” co-artistic director Brian Vaughn said the production we were about to see was “amazing.” He then paid tribute to his mentor, whom he had stand to a round of applause. (You pay tribute to your mentor when you’re Laurence Olivier, not when you’re Brian Vaughn.)

At “The Merry Wives of Windsor” co-artistic director David Ivers, standing onstage with 10 others (count ’em), congratulated Vaughn on speaking so eloquently at “Mockingbird.” (Jeez. They’re now congratulating each other on how well they’re congratulating each other.)

Then Ivers, would you believe it, paid tribute to his mentor. Now, let’s be fair about this, guys. If you’re going to do this sort of thing, it’s only right that you allow the individual cast members to do likewise. I’m sure they all have teachers and directors and mothers worthy of public recognition.

At “Merry Wives,” a board of governors member told us we were in for an “amazing” season. She also gave a “shout-out” to an “amazing company.” Ivers noted that he had just seen a “lovely version” of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” He also said “Les Miserables” was a “stunning production.”

Every “thank you so much” was followed by clapping and more compliments and more claims about how lovely everyone was. Call me eccentric, but I just wanted to see the show.

If I ruled the world, I’d require three things of pre-curtain speeches: 1) That they don’t exist. We already know that theater folks think they’re swell and that their shows are astounding. Why not let the audience make up its own mind? 2) That if artistic directors feel a need to say a word or two, they say only a word or two. And 3) That they find something worth saying. Maybe they could even try to be entertaining, since entertainment is what we’re there for. …

I cringed when I saw in last Friday’s review of Utah’s “Mary Stuart” that I had carelessly misidentified the title character as being the sister, rather than cousin, of Queen Elizabeth I. What was surprising was how much email I got taking me to task for the error. Seems our readers are more knowledgeable in matters of literature and history than some think. Could that mean there’s more of a potential audience out there for “intelligent” plays? Mindless, fun entertainment can be nice, but “intelligent” can be nice too.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat@ aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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