by Editor Sarah Squires
There’s a sort of magic to it — carefully checking the clock, pulling up or dancing down to Winona State University’s Performing Arts Center, being greeted by a friendly Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) volunteer. You parade past the hydrangeas, which glow under the lights after an evening performance. It’s a beautiful scene, even on its edges, and when one walks away from a GRSF performance, it’s a dreamy time, one of those rare moments when you realize that the world truly is a little more magical than you ever knew it was.
This season has thus far proven to be one of the festival’s best. Fifteen is a special anniversary, and the company has delivered an incredible array of plays and talent, and there is still time to enjoy all the festival has to offer.
Each year, I count myself among the enthusiastic audience members, and each year I bring someone who hasn’t yet experienced the magic of GRSF. (It’s hard to imagine, but they are out there, and those of us who know what a wonderful treat it is to have this caliber of theater in our home has a chance to introduce it to someone new.) I caught an evening performance of “A Mid Summer Night’s Dream” with an old friend; I haven’t seen the play in years and never before as staged by GRSF, and we were both delighted by Silas Sellnow, a Minnesota native, whose Lysander and Bottom characters brought the show a dynamic, heady edge. Andrew Carlson was stunning, as usual, and the entire production was one that brought the idea of stage magic to mind.
Next I brought my pal and Winona Post coworker Wendy along to “Venus in Fur.” I’ve always been the type of person who doesn’t like to read the back of a book before I pick it up — I’d rather not really know what I’m getting into as far as plots are concerned — and this show gave me the chance to walk in blind to what it was about. Do not be fooled, I told Wendy. These smaller-cast productions in the black box theater are nothing to scoff at — I’ve been brought to tears before.
By the time the lights came up and we stood up to leave, Wendy and I were visibly stunned. Speechless. As we filed into the lobby, we ran into another old friend and recognized the look mirrored on her face. We couldn’t even muster a greeting, or a comment other than “Wow.” There’s no surprise that Doug Scholz-Carlson is a star in this production. But honestly, what really blew us away was Anna Sundberg’s performance as Vanda. It was a character so rich, so powerful and feminine and full of life, down to the smallest gesture — just when we thought we had her figured out, it was like another layer had been peeled back to reveal a fruit so mysterious we had to lean forward and squint in honest suspended intrigue. She hasn’t been with GRSF since 2007, but I sure hope that she returns soon — any show that includes Sundberg is a guaranteed gift.
If you haven’t seen all the shows — or seen them twice — be sure to head down to WSU and take in all you can through the rest of the season. And, especially this year for its special anniversary, there’s more than the plays on tap at GRSF. More Concerts on the Green than ever, more workshops and shows and Front Porch events than ever — don’t miss out on what’s left of the magic this year.