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December 3, 2021

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WEEKEND GETAWAY:

Bard not required for a fulfilling experience at Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City

Ragtime

Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2021

Daria Pilar Redus (left) as Sarah and Ezekiel Andrew as Coalhouse Walker Jr. in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2021 production of Ragtime.

Schedule

This year’s Utah Shakespeare Festival, which began in June, runs through Oct. 9.

• “Pericles” runs Mondays and Thursdays through Sept. 9

• “Richard III” runs Tuesdays and Fridays through Sept. 10

• “The Comedy of Errors” runs Wednesdays and Saturdays through Sept. 11

• “Ragtime” runs Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Sept. 11

• “The Comedy of Terrors” runs Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays through Oct. 9

• “Intimate Apparel” runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays through Oct. 9

• “Cymbeline” runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays through Oct. 9

• “The Pirates of Penzance” runs Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays through Oct. 9

• “Words Cubed,” a program for new play development that gives audiences the chance to view staged readings of new material, runs through Aug.28.

On this day, I saw no Shakespeare — at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City.

Having purchased tickets for “The Comedy of Errors” and “The Comedy of Terrors,” I made the 2 1/2-hour drive north to Southern Utah University, where the festival was in the midst of its 60th run of theater productions, and first since the death of founder Fred Adams in February 2020.

Despite the haze of smoke wafting in from the wildfires scorching northeastern California, the crisp, almost autumnal air assured me this excursion would be well worth the getaway from 107-degree Southern Nevada heat.

After a brief walk around the bucolic university campus to soak in the lush, green landscape and admire the statues that line the path along the Shakespeare Character Garden, it was showtime at the Randall L. Jones Theatre.

Click to enlarge photo

Michael Doherty (left) as Janet Jones and Alex Keiper as Jo Smith in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2021 production of The Comedy of Terrors.

Michael Doherty, playing three roles in the two-person, five-character non-Shakespearean farce “Terrors,” exercises physical comedy reminiscent of Jim Carrey and voice inflection that could have been inspired by Tim Curry to manufacture humor from what in the hands of a lesser performer could become a confusing and tedious script. But it’s his co-star, Alex Keiper, playing the twin sisters Jo and Fiona Smith, who draws the two loudest turns of applause in appreciation of a pair of fast-paced and challenging acting sequences that exhibit her range and mastery of her characters.

The nearly two-hour show, heavy on dialogue and requiring repeated exits from one side of the stage and entries from the other, would test the mental capacity and physical endurance of any artist performing the show four times a week. But that was meant to be just the start of the day for Doherty and Keiper, who that night were scheduled to take the stage again for “The Comedy of Errors” at the open-air, Elizabethan-style Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre.

Unfortunately, during dinner — at Milt’s Stage Stop, open from 5-9 p.m. and, trust me, try the salmon — my companions and I got word that “Errors” would be canceled that night, as a result of the high air quality index value.

We raced back to the box office to see what options were available to us, and the accommodating festival staff not only refunded the price of the unused Shakespeare tickets but filled, gratis, any empty seats in the Jones Theatre for that night’s production of “Ragtime” with displaced “Errors” ticket-holders.

And that’s how I spent a day at the Utah Shakespeare Festival without seeing any Shakespeare — and left that night without the slightest hint of disappointment.

“Ragtime,” a musical theater production based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow of the same name, features an ensemble cast highlighted by the soulful baritone of Ezekiel Andrew as Coalhouse Walker Jr. accompanied by Daria Pilar Redus as Sarah, pure and clear, powerful and haunting in her rendition of “Your Daddy’s Son” and, with Andrew, “Wheels of a Dream.”

As with “Big River” at the festival in 2018, “Ragtime” director Brian Vaughn made the conscious decision not to modernize offensive language from a work of historical fiction. The plot — topical to this day despite being based on pre-World War I America — includes violence and can be as jarring as the dialogue. It forces the audience to reconcile the vision for American creativity and ingenuity with the reality of American inequality that has forever influenced American opportunity.

For more information and to purchase tickets, go to bard.org.