by Editor-in-chief Sarah Squires
You’re standing in line at the Great River Shakespeare Festival, the hum of excited voices echoing around the lobby, and suddenly you realize Doug Scholz-Carlson is chatting it up with the guy next to you.
Or it might be while you’re pumping gas at the Freedom station, staring off into space, when you realize that space now contains Tarah Flanagan skipping past. Maybe you see Chris Mixon in line at the grocery store. Whatever that moment is for you this year, it’s the sliver in time when the rubix cube of your mind clicks into place and you know — finally! — the newest season of the Great River Shakespeare Festival has arrived, and you are in the company of the truly talented and famous.
I’ve been pretty busy this summer, and though I knew it was upon us, it was Doug in the lobby as I waited to grab my tickets for “Richard III” before the excitement finally bubbled over. This isn’t just any acting company, just another festival. This is absolutely brilliant, unforgettable, unmissable professional theater, right here in Winona. “You are going to love this!” I whispered loudly to my friend Chris.
Now, I’ll be honest here. Just because you’re a writer doesn’t mean you have some ingrained affinity for Shakespeare. I don’t. Or, at least, I didn’t, and not for a lack of trying. I wasn’t very thrilled in college, having to take an entire class about the guy, because reading Shakespeare is nothing compared to watching Shakespeare, and watching Shakespeare is nothing compared to watching the cast and crew of GRSF put on a real show. Now that I’ve secured a love for all things GRSF, I must admit that I have preferred the comedies over the more serious, tragic plays, but even that old fixture has worn pretty thin. “Richard III” may have completely broken my comedy preference hold, though I should mention that it is, too, incredibly funny.
Christopher Gerson was absolutely captivating as Richard on opening night last week, leaning, leaping, leering and scrambling around with his arm braces like a six-limbed jackal, plotting the demise of pretty much everyone in sight.
Melissa Maxwell plays a soul-squeezing Queen Margaret, who has lost everything to Richard’s poisonous ambition, and her warnings and curses of what will befall them all are intense and eerie and riveting.
I could go through the entire cast and go point-by-point through all that they bring to the stage, but I ought to leave a few things for you to discover for yourself. I will say that Stephanie Lambourn, one of my favorites, does a fantastic job as Queen Elizabeth; Caroline Amos aptly juggles roles as Lady Anne, Citizen, and Messenger; and Benjamin Boucvalt was another favorite as the Duke of Buckingham, keeping the audience on its toes wondering where his allegiance, and fate, would fall. He also got to observe my weird nerve damage ankle effect, stumbling up the stairs heading back in after intermission.
Don’t be like me. Don’t pass over the serious Shakespeare and think you won’t be missing out, because you will. I’m kicking myself for the handful of years I have done that, and thankfully, I’m older now, wiser. I won’t make that mistake again.
Check out grsf.org or stop in to the festival office on Third and Lafayette streets and figure out your Shakespeare schedule — we all know the season flies by far too quickly. And, if you’re on a budget, don’t forget about $12 Tuesdays — which gives everyone the chance to soak up the Shakespeare magic. Maybe you’ve got your season tickets and your plan all tacked down, but there’s still more you can do. Bring a friend! We all know someone who hasn’t been to the festival, someone who grumbles and groans and proclaims that Shakespeare just isn’t for them. Prove them wrong! Drag them along and show them what they’ve been missing.