Our box office will be closed Wednesday, June 19

Author: A.H. Goldstein

DAILY CAMERA: Colorado Shakespeare Festival unveils 2018 season with 2 non-Bard productions

Realizing a pair of significant milestones offered the crew at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival a sense of liberation.

Last season was the CSF’s 60th, an anniversary that coincided with a rare accomplishment. The festival celebrated six decades even as they wrapped up their second complete tour since 1976 through William Shakespeare’s 38-play canon, a feat achieved by only a small number of companies in North America.

With those accomplishments in the rearview mirror, organizers at one of the nation’s oldest and most reputable Shakespeare festivals looked to the summer of 2018 with a feeling of creative abandon.

“It had been very hard to look beyond those two big milestones,” said Tim Orr, the CSF’s producing artistic director, speaking over the phone from the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Va. “The questions we started asking ourselves (after season 60) was, ‘What now? What next?’ The answer was: ‘We can do anything.’ In a way, it’s a blank slate.”

The lineup for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s 61st season certainly reflects that spirit. Unlike last year’s program, which featured popular Shakespearean staples like “Julius Caesar” and “Taming of the Shrew,” which figured into the festival’s debut run in 1958, the slate of shows for 2018 is, to say the least, unexpected.

First off: The list of full productions features only two Shakespearean titles, “Love’s Labour’s Lost” and “Richard III.” Those two selections from the Bard will come along with a single “Original Practices” production of “Edward III,” a history that carries a mysterious origin. Scholars have posited that Shakespeare wrote the play with Thomas Kyd, but the division of creative labor has, for centuries, remained unclear. The single performance of “Edward III,” directed by Kevin Rich, will mark the production’s debut at the CSF. What’s more, it’s the first time in years that the festival has not included at least three full Shakespeare productions.

“We thought it might be interesting to expand the non-Shakespeare horizon,” Orr said. “That’s what led us in the direction of some of the other choices.”

The selection of two non-Shakespeare selections also represents a break in a pattern established before Orr took over as producing artistic director in 2014. CSF has long offered productions tied to the Bard — from 2013’s “Women of Will,” a piece rooted in female roles in Shakespeare, to the 2014 production of Paul Rudnik’s comedy “I Hate Hamlet,” to last year’s take on Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.”

This year’s non-Shakespeare selections are truly divorced from the festival’s namesake in terms of theme and content. The CSF will mount a version of Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano DeBergerac,” the 19th century romance centered on a big-nosed and big-spirited hero, as well as the 1936 Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman comedy “You Can’t Take It With You,” a screwball exploration of what it means to be truly content. While the two titles have no direct ties to William Shakespeare and his work, Orr says there’s a logic behind the selections.

“Cyrano,” for example, is in the “same family, same species” as Shakespeare. Its deep questions about the nature of true love, as well as its swordplay, wordplay and action will undoubtedly appeal to any true aficionado of the Bard of Avon. What’s more, the play has left a deep imprint on popular culture in the West since it’s debut in the late 1800s, spurring countless adaptations, including the 1987 film “Roxanne” starring Steve Martin.

“‘Cyrano’ is always under discussion. Every year, someone suggests it,” Orr said, adding that the enthusiasm and skill of director Christopher DuVal helped secure its spot in the 2018 CSF season. DuVal directed last year’s production of “Taming,” the most financially successful production in CSF history.

“You Can’t Take It With You,” meanwhile,’ offered an unlikely parity to the festival’s concurrent production of “Richard III,” the final installment in Shakespeare’s “Henriad” history cycle that the CSF kicked off with its production of “Richard II” in 2013. Though the comedy revels in zany antics and unabashed silliness to draw its laughs, it offered a complementary appeal.

“It’s a weird idea I had several years ago … The cast size and makeup of those two plays are almost identical. Both plays are about two families,” Orr said. “They’re both about ambition, they’re both about families, but they have polar opposite viewpoints. They both reflect an age of anxiety that we’re in right now, but one play completely capitalizes on that feeling, the other is the antidote.”

That sense of opposition also applies to the selection of Shakespeare titles for the 2018 season. “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” here set during the health craze of the early 1900s, revels in romance and light-hearted comedy, while “Richard III,” which will be presented in the CU indoor theater for the first time, delves into the most unsettling consequences of political ambition. “Love’s Labour” and “Richard III” will come to life under the direction of CSF newcomer Brendon Fox and Front Range theater vet Wendy Franz, respectively.

Orr sees a sense of promise in the lineup, as well as a hint of accomplishments to come. More milestones lie in wait to realize, he said, and along the way, he’s all for experimentation and growth.

“We’re always going to be exploring. We’re going to talk to our audience and see how this summer goes,” Orr said. “It might be that the next season is all Shakespeare, it might not be. We’ve got a lot that we want to do.”