By Allison McCausland
A&E and Online Editor
From June 1 until Aug. 5, DeSales’ Labuda Center for the Performing Arts was once again home to the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival for another spectacular season.
The line-up of productions began with the acclaimed musical Ragtime, which takes place at the turn of the twentieth century and tells the tale of three interwoven families in New York City’s melting pot. A rare choice of a musical, the themes regarding race, class and immigration portrayed in the story proved complimentary to the issues the United States faces today in the twenty-first century. The production also had its very own DeSales pizzazz under the direction of Act One’s own Dennis Razze, who also did PSF’s previously sold-out musical Evita. The cast and crew made sure those parallels were apparent as they show stopped their way to another smash hit.
However, the festival’s namesake would not be so without the variety of Shakespearean works featured throughout the summer.
The featured work at the forefront of the festival this summer was the historical drama Richard II, featuring Christian Coulson as the titular monarch. The play was also a real treat for fans of the Harry Potter franchise as Coulson previously played Tom Riddle in the second installment, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Whether playing the wizarding world’s greatest villain or one of Britain’s regarded kings, Coulson and the rest of the cast shone in the dramatization of the Plantagenet’s fall from power and replacement by Henry IV of the house of Lancaster.
Running in tandem with Richard II’s production, the very same cast switched up their roles in the classic Shakespeare in Love for the festival’s yearly comedy slot. Based on the Academy-Award winning film, the production chronicles the fictionalized romance between Shakespeare and the aristocrat Viola De Lesseps as he attempts to get over his writer’s block. The end result: one of the greatest romantic tragedies of all time.
The Shakespeare love did not stop there, as the romantic comedy Twelfth Night played in the Schubert Theater next door to the Main Stage. Sharing the theme of cross-dressing hijinks, Twelfth Night’s protagonist, also named Viola, finds herself shipwrecked on an island and creates a love triangle that is almost overshadowed itself by the performances of the supporting cast. Played in a more personal theater space, the actors’ interactive moments with the theatergoers added to the stitches in audiences’ sides.
Nevertheless, Twelfth Night only spent half its run in the Schubert Theater before switching over to All’s Well that Ends Well, one of the Bard’s more dynamic comedies. Selected as the festival’s “Extreme Shakespeare” choice, the production was put on by the company’s actors and rehearsed the way Elizabethan actors would have: lines learned, rehearsals one week before opening and a variety of recycled costumes and props from Labuda to color the blank canvas of a stage.
Not a Shakespeare expert? Have no fear! For audience members who are not familiar with some of the productions, PSF offered prologues 45 minutes before each evening show to explain the basics and background of the play’s origins and plot to keep patrons on track.
PSF has great fun for children, too. The program “Shakespeare for Kids” offered one-hour productions of Twelfth Night to inspire and entertain even the youngest of Shakespeare lovers. And for those who did not prefer the Bard, the company put on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland for kids to get an up-close look at the magical journey of Alice after she goes down the rabbit-hole.
Other one-night featured programs included the one act play The Great Divorce, based on C.S. Lewis’ acclaimed work, and “Bootleg Famous: To Broadway and Beyond,” a cabaret show with Dan Domenech who played Che in last year’s Evita as well.
With all that PSF has to offer, tickets for next summer’s season should be booked in advance due to high demand, especially their featured musicals. Do not miss out next year! For more information on the festival for all ages, visit http://pashakespeare.org/index.php.