116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Riverside Theatre’s telling of Shakespeare’s ‘The Winter’s Tale’ is a midsummer night’s dream.
Apollo shined down on the first weekend of free performances that drew 1,100 people to the outdoor Festival Stage in Iowa City’s Lower City Park. Let’s hope Apollo also shines his sun and light on the final four performances, Thursday through Sunday, July 22 to 25.
Where: Riverside Theatre’s Festival Stage, Lower City Park, 200 Park Rd., Iowa City
When: 7:30 p.m. July 22 to 25, 2021
Admission: Free, no ticket needed
Extras: Seating is first-come, masks not required, socially distanced section available; lawn activities and food trucks at 6:30 p.m., Green Show introduction to the play at 7 p.m.
The venue, modeled after Shakespeare’s Old Globe Theatre in London, is beautiful for an evening performance. S. Benjamin Farrar’s scenery is fun to watch transform, and Karle Meyers’ costumes are glorious in their flowing splendor.
And Adam Knight’s direction is impeccable, as he allows his stellar cast to explore the inner demons or outward hilarity of their characters.
This show personifies Riverside’s belief that “Shakespeare is for everyone,” with the drama sweeping from the show’s first half into the sidesplitting physical humor of the show’s second half, which had a little boy sitting near me Friday night howling with laughter. (So was I.)
If you aren’t a Shakespearean scholar — and even if you are — be sure to attend the 7 p.m. Green Show preview by the shelter house near the theater. Before each performance, cast members Elijah Jones and Luli Gomez Teruel will explain not only the show’s concept, but how it defies the three main Shakespearean play categories of comedy, tragedy and history.
This one boasts all three.
Watching jealousy consume Sicilian King Leontes is utterly captivating, as actor Martin Andrews thunders his accusations of infidelity at his pregnant queen (the luminous Jessica Link) and his lifelong best friend, Bohemian King Polixenes (Aaron Weiner), who has been visiting for nine months.
Leontes wrestles as much with himself as with his beloveds, handing down tragic consequences for them all as he descends into madness.
The women, however, have the most ardent speeches, first as Queen Hermione (Link) defends her honor and love for Leontes, and then as noblewoman Paulina (Crystal Marie Stewart), tries to thaw the king’s icy heart by presenting to him his newborn daughter. Unfazed, he banishes the child to the woods, where she is found and raised by a shepherd.
The mood changes completely after intermission as the action moves to Bohemia. Gone are the stark, angular set pieces of the Sicilian realm, replaced by flowers, bright colors and flowing garments reflecting a much freer folk.
Sixteen years have passed, and the Sicilian princess Perdita (Christina Sullivan), not knowing of her noble birth, has fallen in love with Polixenes’ son, Prince Florizel (Barrington Vaxter).
The frolicking residents are preparing for a sheepshearing festival, and that’s when actor Patrick Du Laney takes over the realm, as a thieving traveling musician Autolycus. I won’t give away the full scope of his antics, but slipping into an ill-fitting shirt, he slips into high humor.
All the cast members have their own moments in the sun, often playing more than one character, and sliding seamlessly between them.
Jones plays the perfect foil to Du Laney, and Elliott Bales, with his commanding presence, brings compassion to his dual roles as Leontes’ aide who must abandon the baby in the woods, then later, as the kindly shepherd who raises her.
The only challenge to the evening is hearing some of the actors when they lower their voices too much, letting their utterances disappear into the night air.
I also won’t give away the ending, as the action moves back to Sicilia (Sicily). Suffice it to say, all’s well that ends well, but you really need to see it for yourself.
With a generous intermission, the show clocks in at three hours that go zipping by. Activities begin an hour before the 7:30 p.m. curtain, and those who arrive early can bring a picnic or buy dinner, drinks and snacks from a food truck and the theater’s concession stand.
Yard games beckon all ages to play in the lawn.
Since the seating is general admission — with a section marked off for social distancing — be sure to bring a blanket or jacket to stake your claim before heading out to royally enjoy the preshow festivities.
Another round of free Shakespeare in the Park comes Aug. 13 to 22 with the madcap antics of “The Comedy of Errors.” Missing either of these shows would be a mistake.
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