Arts & Culture

Idaho Shakespeare Festival brings mystery, magic and misery to the stage for its 39th season

The Idaho Shakespeare Festival is one of the Treasure Valley’s most enduring cultural icons. With a mix of classical theater, musicals, beautiful scenery and sense of community, it is more than an evening at the theater. It is a complete experience that starts as you enter a site that blooms with wildflowers, teems with wildlife and brims with creativity. Here are a few things to know to keep up with this season.

New greenshows

Last year was the finale after 22 summers for the Fool Squad’s signature comic Greenshows. Actors Tom Willmorth and Joe Golden produced hilarious half-hour send-ups of the plays, local politics and community life, and raided as many picnic baskets as they could. So, what do you do next?

Well, producing artistic director Charlie Fee put his new artistic associate Tom Ford on the task. Ford is a company actor who has been coming to Idaho for more than 10 years. He moved here in 2014 and took on more duties at ISF, including producing and directing for Shakespearience, the festival’s educational outreach tour, and now the new Greenshows.

“What do you do,” Ford says. “You can’t really put anyone up there to try and do the same thing Tom and Joe did.”

Ford chose a different direction. You’ll find a little nod to the past on Tuesday nights with “Trivia Night with Tom.”

“It will have some of the old feel, with a different structure.”

Then on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays you’ll find some fun local music on stage. On different nights, you’ll hear jazz from Frim Fram Four, a mix of Old World and contemporary music from Classical Revolution, and a fusion of both from Kevin Kirk and Onomatopoeia. Find a schedule at Greenshows start at 7:30 p.m.

As for Ford, you’ll see him as Stephano in “The Tempest,” Dr. Craven in “The Secret Garden” and the Fool in “King Lear.”

Notes on the company

•  This year you’ll see as many new faces as familiar ones. On the returning path are two notable boomerang apprentices. Katie Willmorth — yes, Tom’s daughter — returns this season as Miranda in “The Tempest” after graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

“Boise’s become such a touchstone for me,” she says. “This is the first place I was swept up in the magic of theater, watching my mom and dad on stage and all these actors I’ve come to know and respect.”

Willmorth made her debut with the festival in a Greenshow when she was 9. She made her company debut in 2010 in “An Ideal Husband,” and now she comes back to play one of Shakespeare’s most magical heroines.

•  You’ve seen Aled Davies on the ISF stage for more than 10 years. He’s always a standout in roles such as Julius Caesar, Oberon in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Falstaff in last season’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” Now he will take on one of the epic roles offered in the canon, the tragedy about a king who divides his kingdom among his three daughters and then is driven mad by the fallout.

“Of course, I’m terrified, challenged and gratified,” Davies says. “I’m feeling a whole world of emotions that are mostly in the ‘yikes’ camp. But Joe (Hanreddy) is a good director, and he’ll take care of me, and I won’t go screaming into the night.”

Davies says taking on a role of this size is intimidating, not just for the literal enormity of the role, but the history that comes with it. Yet, there’s always one good reason to go through the process.

“I’m doing it for the one person in the audience who hasn’t seen the show,” he says. “That’s where the contract is clean between the two. That keeps me sane. I’m just doing a character that happens to be called King Lear.”

•  Director Drew Barr is back after two summers abroad. He directed the Australian and Dutch productions of “War Horse,” the Tony Award-winning drama about a boy and his horse as they journey through and try to survive World War I.

Barr’s past plays at ISF include a swinging 1940s “Much Ado About Nothing” (2002), steampunk “The Taming of the Shrew” (2005) and the Agatha Christie mystery “The Mousetrap” (2012). He returns this season to direct “The Tempest.”

Notes on the plays

The season opens with “Dial M for Murder,” Frederick Knott’s play about a woman who becomes trapped in a murderous web, which inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film. For the past few seasons, Fee has opened with a genre piece, such as last season’s “Deathtrap,” a twisting dark comedy about a murder inside a murder.

“This is so different because you’re watching it all take place. It’s a true crime piece and that’s been the most popular genre on TV and film, and before that theater,” Fee says. It’s sure to appeal to fans of “Law & Order” and “CSI.”

The technical challenges for this play are the 10 phone calls that factor into the drama and propel the story forward. And Fee promises a fun device to help tell the story, but he did not want to reveal the surprise. But he did say that for the original play, the telephone was a relatively new technology and a new way to tell a story. He promises that this device will be in the same vein, but more advanced for today’s technologically savvy audience.

Next up, Barr sets his “Tempest” on an “island of the mind.” This is Shakespeare’s last and most magical play, filled with revenge, love, forgiveness and resolution. Prospero, an exiled duke turned magician, wills his enemies to the shores of his deserted island, and finds the right match for his daughter Miranda. Actor David Anthony Smith, known for his larger-than-life presence and penchant for perfect comic timing, takes on the role that also plays to his darker side.

The musical centerpiece is “The Secret Garden,” directed by Victoria Bussert. Based on the classic English children’s book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, it’s the tale of a young girl who loses her family to cholera in India and comes home to England to live at her uncle’s estate. There she finds hope and heals tragedy in a forgotten garden. The production brings back Stephen Mitchell Brown, who played Jean Valjean in last season’s “Les Miserables,” and features the debut of two young performers: Giovanna A. Layne, from Cleveland, and Boise’s Warren Bodily as Colin. The two children also will travel back to Cleveland for the play’s run at Great Lakes Theater.

Power, corruption and tragedy heat up August with Joe Hanreddy’s production of “King Lear.” Hanreddy directed the slick, Armani-esque “King Richard III” in 2013.

The September play is the musical “The Fantasticks,” again directed by Bussert. One of the most popular musicals in history, it tells a story of love, tradition, friendship and magic with beautiful songs such as “Try to Remember” and “Soon Its Gonna Rain.” The company also will perform this show in repertory with Fee’s “Romeo and Juliet” at the festival’s third partner theater, the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival.