Travel Tip Thursday is a writing prompt started by Winds of Change. This feature is a great way to write about favorite places you’ve visited and to share the experience with others. My tip for this week is the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City, Utah. Of course, I'm posting this a day late (but I didn't have good internet access yesterday). I'm still on vacation and not getting around to many blogs, so hang in there. I'll be back home on Tuesday and sometime thereafter will catch up with everyone.
In addition to being in a gorgeous setting, just north of Zion National Park and below Cedar Breaks National Monument and within three hours or so of six other national parks and monuments (Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef, Great Basin, North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Pipestem and the Grand Staircase), Cedar City is at 5800 feet in elevation, giving it very pleasant summer weather. It’s warm in the day but cools off in the evening. The city is located in Southwestern Utah, only 170 miles north of Las Vegas (2 ½ hour drive up Interstate 15), making it a perfect place to stop during a trip of the Utah parks. The city is also home of Southern Utah University and the wonderful Utah Shakespearean Festival which is held every summer on its campus. And for those who can’t get enough of Shakespeare, there is also a Neil Simon festival that is held off campus.
Fred Adams, a drama teacher at what was Southern Utah College, began the festival nearly fifty years ago. In time, the festival grew into a professionally staffed production that features actors from all over the United States. The festival has three stages, the Randall Jones Theatre where non-Shakespearean plays are performed; the Adam’s Theatre, which is an outdoor replica of Shakespeare’s own Globe Theater which hosts the summer production of Shakespeare’s plays; and a backup inside theater which is used in case of rain. (photo is of the Adam Theatre.) The regular shows begin at 8 PM, Monday through Saturday (these theaters are black on Sunday as this is Utah and the Mormon Church’s influence is still strong, which helps keep Sunday sacred). There are two shows each evening (one in the Randall Jones and the other in the Adam’s Theatre) and one matinee a day which is held in the Randall Jones.
This week I attended the Festival’s production of "Merchant of Venice," a play I’ve loved since high school, when I took a Shakespeare class. In general, boys weren’t drawn to Shakespeare, which was the point. Another guy named David and I found ourselves in a class that consisted of twenty girls and a teacher that seemed to be going on seventy at the time (but probably not as her daughter was my age). Mrs. Cobb relished telling us the raunchy parts of Shakespeare’s plays. With a 10-1 girl to boy ratio and lots of sexual innuendos, I’m not sure why more guys didn’t flock to her Shakespeare’s class, but I was glad to have the experience and the ratio of boys to girls gave me a fighting chance.
The Merchant of Venice is a play that explores themes of justice and mercy, economics, racial and religious bias all while providing laughs along the way. The play is about the wooing of the lovely Portia. Bassanio is in love with her, but deeply in debt. He borrows money from his friend Antonio so he can be a proper suitor of Portia. But Antonio (the Merchant of Venice) is cash poor. His wealth is tied up in ships sailing to various ports around the world. Knowing when one of the ships returns, he can easily repay the debt, he borrows money from his enemy Shylock, a Jewish moneylender who demands that if he is unable to pay the debt, that Antonio forfeit a pound of his flesh. Bassannio successfully woos Portia, but then learns that Antonio’s ships are delayed and he can repay his debt. Bassannio quickly goes back to Venice to help his friend. Portia and Nerissa (her woman in waiting that has fallen for Bassanio’s friend Gratiano) follow Bassanio back to Venice. Bassanio, with Portia’s help, is able to pay off Antonio, but Shylock doesn’t want the money, only the flesh. Portia and Nerissa dress as if judges and they come in to review Shylock’s case against Antonio. After failing to get Shylock to show mercy, she (dressed as a male judge) rules that Shylock can have his pound of flesh, but that he is not allowed to take a drop of blood. Shylock realizes he’s been had. Furthermore, she reveals another law that finds Shylock guilty of attempted murder. Under this law, Shylock will lose all his property and face execution, but mercy is shown and Shylock is allowed to live (but he must become a Christian) and upon his death, his wealth will go to Lorenzo (his son-in-law who ran off with his daughter Jessica).
There are other twists to the play, but this isn’t to be a review. Instead, let me give two lines that have to do with economics… One of Lorenzo’s friends says this about the conversion of Jessica: “The problem of Jews becoming Christians is that it raises the price of pork.” Shylock on Antonio’s lending without interest: “He lends money gratis, and brings down the rate of usance here with us in Venice.” The play does have an economic streak in it.
Each season, the Shakespearean festival features six plays in the summer and three in the fall. Three of the summer and one of the plays in the fall season are Shakespeare plays, the rest being plays by contemporary playwrites of Shakespeare or modern plays and musicals. In addition to “Merchant,” this summer’s lineup includes: “Much Ado about Nothing,” “Macbeth,” “Great Expectations,” “Pride and Prejudice,” and “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.” In addition to the plays, the festival offers backstage tours, workshops on costumes, literary discussions and the Greenshow, a free outdoor program that starts an hour before the evening play and includes music and other “Shakespeare era” talents. (See photo of the Greenshow, they will let you photograph the Greenshows, but not the plays.)
If you visit Cedar City, be sure to take a walk up the canyon. A three mile walking trail starts in the middle of the town and follows Cedar Creek up into the beautiful red rock. In the evening, the light on the rock is stunning.