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Published: Thursday, 7/17/2008

Michigan Shakespeare Festival opens tonight

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Paul Hopper, left, and Paul Molnar in Julius Caesar.
Paul Hopper, left, and Paul Molnar in Julius Caesar.
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JACKSON, Mich. The Michigan Shakespeare Festival raises the curtain on its 14th season tonight.

Playing in the Michael Baughman Theater on the campus of Jackson Community College, about 100 miles northwest of Toledo, the festival this year comprises two Shakespeare productions, a Gilbert and Sullivan light operetta, and a children s show. They will be presented by a professional company, many of whom are members of the Actor s Equity Association.

Shakespeare s romantic comedy All s Well That Ends Well, directed by artistic director John Neville-Andrews, opens at 7:30 tonight, with additional performances at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 7:30 p.m. July 25 and 26.

Gillian Eaton directs Shakespeare s historical tragedy Julius Caesar, which will open at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow. Other performances are at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and July 24 and 2 p.m. July 26 and 27.

The Mikado, considered by many to be Gilbert and Sullivan s masterpiece, is scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 1 and 2 and 2 p.m. Aug. 3 and will be directed by Tom Petiet.

For its children s show, the festival has turned to the Brothers Grimm s 3 Spinning Fairies. Sean Harmon directs the story of a prince who wants to wed Belinda, a young woman of whom his mother disapproves. The queen locks Belinda in a tower with a huge mound of flax and a spinning wheel, saying that she will bless the marriage when Belinda has spun the flax into cloth. Unfortunately, Belinda doesn t know how. Performances are at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and July 26.

All s Well That Ends Well is one of Shakespeare s lesser-known plays and it s also one that s hard to categorize, Neville-Andrews said in a telephone interview last week.

It s not like Julius Caesar, which everyone knows from history or high school English. It s very much like a Chekov, Ibsen, or Strindberg work, he said.

Shakespeare wrote in an era when women were submissive and generally were considered chattel, owned by their fathers and husbands. Helena, the heroine in All s Well, is a strong and determined young woman, out to get what she wants.

Can you imagine what it would have been like for audiences to see something like that in Shakespeare s day? It s quite intriguing.

Neville-Andrews said he updated the show by giving it an English Regency setting. Most of the elements of the play fit the period, which may be familiar to audiences from the works of Jane Austen.

For the first time this year, MSF is hitting the road. Performances of Shakespeare s works will be presented in the Peter Martin Wege Theatre, 341 Ellsworth SW, Grand Rapids, Mich. All s Well that Ends Well runs at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 1 and 2 p.m. Aug. 2, and Julius Caesar will be 7:30 p.m. Aug. 2 and 2 p.m. Aug. 3, the official end of the festival.

We are the Official Shakespeare Festival of the State of Michigan, so we thought we d give audiences in another part of the state a chance to see the shows, Neville-Andrews said. Grand Rapids was chosen because it has a thriving theater scene and because it s the second-largest city in Michigan.

Bard talks, giving an overview of the play and suggesting what to watch for, have been scheduled at 6:30 p.m. Saturday for Julius Caesar in Jackson at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 2 in Grand Rapids. For All s Well, they will be at 6:30 p.m. July 26 in Jackson and 2 p.m. Aug. 2 in Grand Rapids.

Festival talk backs with the directors and actors have been scheduled for All s Well after the July 25 show in Jackson and the Aug. 1 show in Grand Rapids. For Julius Caesar, they will be after the July 24 show in Jackson and the Aug. 2 show in Grand Rapids.

The Michigan Shakespeare Festival opens Tuesday and runs through Aug. 3 in Jackson and Grand Rapids, Mich. Tickets range from $24 to $27 for adults, $15 for students.

Information: www.MichShakeFest.org or 866-705-2636.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: ncherry@theblade.com or 419-724-6130.



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