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Shakespeare rocks! (08/08/2007)
By Janet Lewis Burns
There was a lump in the throat, a tear in the eye, and admiration on the sea of beaming faces that Sunday, July 29th, at the "Farewell to the Season," presented at the close of Season 4 of Winona's Great River Shakespeare Festival. Kudos were two-sided.

Though I never thought I much cared for Shakespeare in writing, I can't say enough about the comedy production, "As You Like It", which my daughter Kelly and I attended that final afternoon. It was fantastic!

Live plays have never been my forte. After the enchanting aura and intrigue of this production, I question whether I've judged too hastily in the past. My daughter-in-law has beraeted me for never having taken our children to "The Sound of Music", or any other play, when they were young. It's never too late!

Through these well-seasoned, extraordinary actors, Shakespeare's clever, amusingly wrought wordplay came alive with flair and dignity. A cultural surge in the Winona area has been erupting. It's fortunate that GRSF vows to return to Winona with gusto next summer.

Apart from local class plays, a steppingstone to the world of theatre for countless high school students, the first actual play I attended was on a school bus trip to the Twin Cities to the Mixed Blood Theatre in Dinkey Town. It was about 1986 when proud Lewiston folks traveled there to see a play written by local student Gary Lee Mills, called "Up The Down Staircase," and we were all thoroughly impressed!

Music concerts were more my thing, back when I was spry enough to climb to the top of steep bleachers and to endure ear-busting instruments, screaming audiences, and dizzying strobe lights. It was the Garth Brooks concert when the entire program was one, ongoing standing ovation. I got there only because Linda Meyer was willing to stand in line for hours to pick up the tickets.

My all time favorite show was done by John Prine, singer and songwriter of witty, playful lyrics, often with a twist of irony. His musicians were out of the ordinary, including an accordion, harmonica and a sax. His voice kinda grows on you, like Bob Dylan. I've been listening to his DVDs and cassettes for years! (Judge not lest ye be judged.)

Pat and I attended a dinner theatre production at the Jon Hassler Theatre in Plainview a couple years ago. The play was hilarious, acted out in the fishing house of two buddies, where the scenery set the stage for colorful, corny antics. It was pleasantly surprising to hear these uncouth, beer drinking fellas sing beautifully, songs which either tugged at one's heartstrings or brought the house down with guffaws.

A busload of Lewiston women, and a couple brave men, traveled to Plymouth Playhouse this past January to see the acclaimed "Church Basement Ladies." Can anyone imagine how it would sound on a bus full of chattering, giddy gals of all ages and dispositions?!

The play takes place behind the scenes of a Lutheran church's social events, in preparation for weddings, funerals, etc., including comical banter with a patient minister. Wearing retro clothes, and with lively personalities, these Carol Burnett-type characters have no shortage of madcap escapades. A lighthearted list of differences between Catholic and Lutheran church practices tickles the funny bone.

When I reluctantly went to "Fiddler On the Roof" with family members years back, I was prepared to dislike the play with a passion. The opposite happened; it was marvelous, and nothing like Shirley Jones and Gordon McCray in a surrey on the set of "Oklahoma" or Danny Kaye with his buddy "Pinocchio." As before, I had misjudged.

The Great River Shakespeare Festival has once again graced local audiences with class and professionalism. If you've missed the plays this season, there's always next year! If you think you don't care for plays, take it from the master: "Your IF is the only peacemaker. Much virtue in IF."

Never say never!



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