From its inspired origins in Downtown Boise in the 1970s to today’s state-of-the-art amphitheater in East Boise, the Idaho Shakespeare Festival is as much a part of summer in the Treasure Valley as floating the Boise River.
It’s not your typical night at the theater. Warm breezes waft through the trees, birds soar by, the river hurries past, and the ingredients of comedy, tragedy and everything in between are served up in the fun, casual atmosphere of a picnic.
The on-stage fare for the 41st season includes two of Shakespeare’s best: “Hamlet,” possibly the greatest play written in the English language, and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” easily his most popular comedy. Also on the boards: a Disney musical/tragedy, a spine-tingling thriller and a quick-change, farcical twist on Sherlock Holmes.
Here’s a look at this season’s plays:
▪ “Wait Until Dark,” by Frederick Knott, directed by Joseph Hanreddy . Dates: May 26-July 30.
The plot: “Wait Until Dark” unfurls as a deadly game of cat and mouse that pits a trio of con men against an unsuspecting blind woman in order to reclaim a mysterious doll.
Jodi Dominick returns to the company for the role of Susy Hendrix, a blind woman who has arranged her Greenwich Village apartment so she can move freely within its walls. Hanreddy used that idea to create a physical sense of claustrophobia with Scott Bradley’s tight set to heighten the tension and intensify the relationships.
“Ultimately, it’s a play about trust,” Hanreddy says. “One of the devices these guys use to get the doll is to erode this newlywed’s trust of her husband. That’s a particularly insidious thing to do. Like all thrillers, this one takes a heroine we want to protect and have tremendous empathy for, and puts her in harm’s way. Particularly with Jodi’s performance, this play fulfills that beautifully.”
The production also features a new addition to the Idaho company, with seasoned regional theater actor Arthur Hanket in the role of the villainous Harry Roat, the murderous mastermind behind the plot.
▪ “Hamlet,” by William Shakespeare, directed by ISF producing artistic director Charlie Fee. Dates: June 2-25.
The plot: Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, seeks to avenge his father’s murder at the hands of his uncle in this twisted family tragedy that is rife with betrayal and madness.
There are two dynamic facets that make this production special. For the setting, Fee returns to the idea of the original Globe Theatre stage structure, and he double cast the title character — with a man and a woman. Jonathan Dyrud and Laura Welsh Berg will perform the role on alternating nights.
The dual rehearsal process was incredibly rewarding because it allowed the company to get more deeply into the text, Fee says.
“Their Hamlets are really different, and they’re both great,” Fee says. “They both were absolutely alive with it all the time. It’s something (the idea of doubling a role) that I’ll repeat.”
Russell Metheny’s set mirrors the the theater that was built in 1599 specifically for performances of Shakespeare’s plays. It worked then and it works now, and it’s like going back to the original blueprint for our modern theaters, Fee says.
The Globe set is a more defined performance area that creates more intimacy among the actors and with the audience, both in the focus of the action and because there is on-stage audience seating on the upstage right and left sides of the set.
You can buy on-stage tickets online for the price of a hillside seat while they last.
Fee plans to produce more of The Bard’s works using a Globe setup, he says.
“There’s a reason that almost every major Shakespeare festival has a Globe theater,” Fee says. “It’s got everything you need. After that it’s just directors trying to create something different — and we’ve only done ‘that other thing’ here, ever. This is so exciting. The minute I saw it, I decided we’re going to keep it.”
The production also brings another actor back to the ISF stage. Kathleen Pirkl Tague, a longtime member of the company with her husband, will step into the role of Gertrude.
▪ “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” music by Alan Menken, (“Aladdin”), lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked”) and book by Peter Parnell, based on the Victor Hugo novel and the Disney-animated film, directed by Victoria Bussert. Dates: June 30-Sept. 1.
With a large cast, a 15-member on-stage choir and a nine-member pit orchestra, “Hunchback” is ISF’s biggest production yet. It will feature Broadway actor and “Broadway Sings” producer Corey Mach as the deformed bell ringer Quasimodo; Keri Rene Fuller, who captivated the ISF audience as Eponine in the 2014 production of “Les Miserables,” as Esmeralda; and ISF artistic associate Tom Ford as the nefarious cleric Frollo.
“Hunchback” is one of several Disney films that have been staged as a musical, and “it’s definitely the darkest,” Bussert says. It deals with bigotry, hatred and betrayal on an operatic scale.
Bussert is turning to Hugo’s novel to give the production more grit and heart, she says. She and new-to-ISF costumer Martha Bromelmeier have been inspired by the 1979 production of “The Elephant Man.”
“I’m really fascinated by an actor transforming his own body into the disfigurement rather than using costuming,” Bussert says.
▪ “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” by William Shakespeare, directed by Joseph Hanreddy. Dates: Aug. 4-Sept. 3.
The plot: Four young lovers escape the oppression of the established court to to search for love in a magical forest. Little do they know they’ve stumbled into a war between the fairy king Oberon and queen Titania that mirrors the real world battle between Theseus and Hippolota. (Nick Steen and Jillian Kates play both sets of roles.)
“It’s the ultimate battle of the sexes,” says Hanreddy, who will helm this second production. “The premise of the play is that there’s been a battle between men and women and the men won, and where do we go from here? Will Theseus back the old guard, or will his marriage to Hippolota blossom because he takes a different world view?”
The production is set between a future vision of our contemporary world and the ethereal natural world of the “forest” that is “...sort of fashion-forward Greek,” Hanreddy says.
▪ “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” Steven Canny and John Nicholson’s adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, directed by Charlie Fee. Dates: Sept. 8-Oct. 1.
The plot: It follows Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story about the Baskerville family, which is plagued by a giant, murderous hound. But this is a zany, quick-change version of the Sherlock Holmes classic detective story.
“We love our quick-change shows,” Fee says. “This is really ‘The 39 Steps’ meets ‘The Complete Works.’ It’s just irresistible.”
Fee assembled an A-team trio for the project: Lynn Robert Berg, Jeffrey Hawkins and Dougfred Miller.
That show will start at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival and then will come to Boise to finish out ISF’s season.
Idaho Shakespeare Festival 2017 season
Friday, May 26, to Sunday, Oct. 1, Idaho Shakespeare Festival Amphitheater, 5657 Warm Springs Ave., Boise.
Hours: The amphitheater opens at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and 6 p.m. on Sundays; Café Shakespeare opens a half-hour earlier. Greenshows start at 7:20 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.
Tickets: Season tickets are $130-$170 general for classic three, four and five shows packages on the weekends, $110 to $150 weekdays; $50-$65 for students. Individual tickets run $20-$45 general, $13 for ages 6 to 17 on family nights only; $20 for students with I.D. any night. Flex packages, large and small box seats also are available. IdahoShakespeare.org. and 336-9221.
What to know
▪ Bring a blanket or low-back chair to sit on the lawn or berm. You can rent a small wooden chair for $2.
▪ Sunscreen, hats and mosquito repellant are good ideas.
▪ Once the sun goes down, it gets chilly, so a sweater or blanket is also a good idea. (ISF sweatshirts run $25 to $45.)
▪ Performances don’t always get called off when the weather turns stormy. Actors will perform in a drizzle — without costumes in heavier rain — but if things get torrential, the play will be stopped. If that happens before intermission, you’ll get a rain check.
▪ Food: You can bring your own picnic, wine or beer, or grab a meal at Café Shakespeare. (Order ahead at IdahoShakespeare.org/cafe-shakespeare or call 947-2067.) You can dine in the amphitheater or on the riverside patio.
▪ The Greenshows are Wednesdays to Saturdays (except preview nights) from Saturday, May 27, to Thursday, Aug. 31. They feature musical performances by ISF’s House Bands Kevin Kirk Presents, Classical Revolution: Boise and Frim Fram 4, and dance by Idaho Dance Theatre. For a full schedule go to IdahoShakespeare.org/calendar. Click on the play’s title and you’ll find details about the evening’s events.
Accessibility & special nights
▪ The festival grounds are wheelchair accessible. You also can reserve an assisted-listening system.
▪ Signing Shakespeare: One performance for each play will be interpreted into American Sign Language. There are reserved sections interpreted evenings. Learn more at IdahoShakespeare.org/access-program.
▪ The festival offers discounts for teachers on Educator Appreciation Night, Tuesday, June 6.
▪ This year’s fundraising gala is 5:30 p.m. Monday, June 19. Tickets are $175 per person at 429-9908, ext. 207.