Festival makes Shakespeare seem easy

Most of us are a little afraid of Shakespeare, and Cedar City’s Utah Shakespearean Festival helps make him easy.

Case in point: A group was seated in an auditorium one hour prior to the opening performance of "Coriolanus." A hand count showed that only one of them had seen this rarely performed tragedy. One said he had tried to read the script but found it too confusing.

Not to worry. Fred Adams was there to help. An energetic, flamboyant man who talks a lot with his hands and eyes, Adams is the founder of the festival. Maybe more importantly, he’s a fun guy to listen to.

He reduces the plot to its basic elements. Coriolanus proves himself a great soldier. But he’s killed when he tries to become a great statesman. Adams seems to get more and more into the story as he explains it. He’s maybe the most exciting trailer I’ve ever seen.

He talks about the sources the author used for his plot. "Shakespeare was not just a copycat," he says with a grin. "He was an outright thief."

What makes this script interesting to Adams is that it’s different than the Bard’s other tragedies. He points out that characters such as Othello and Julius Caesar are extraordinary men who are destroyed by one fatal character flaw. Adams figures that one day Shakespeare said to himself, "Wouldn’t it be interesting to do a tragic figure whose flaw is not one of the seven deadly sins, but a virtue: honesty."

Adams theorizes that the tragedy — Shakespeare’s last — is seldom performed because it’s unconventional and intellectually difficult. He offers some unusual advice.

"The language is very, very demanding," he says. "Shakespeare uses every word he ever made up. Don’t listen to the play. Just concentrate on the action."

When someone says that T.S. Eliot thought "Coriolanus" was better than "Hamlet," Adams doesn’t seem impressed. "T.S. Eliot wrote ‘Cats,’ " he reminds us with a sigh.

That evening, the play unfolds just as Adams told us it would. The next morning, there’s a seminar in a grove that gives us a chance to hash out our feelings about what we saw. Some of the comments are enjoyably trivial ("I thought the actor playing Coriolanus was too short"). Some are profound (an audience member feels the script is relevant today not because of current political events, but because of the author’s astute knowledge of human behavior.)

I always feel smart when I leave these seminars — mainly because I’m learning, without pain, more and more of the brilliant things Shakespeare had to tell us about this crazy world around us. In many ways, the important ways, his world is still ours.

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

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