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Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2013 season risky, but also fun

Utah Shakespeare Festival » From drama condensed to one room to a fantasy across the oceans, Utah’s biggest summer theater event stretches its wings.

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As mother to Arthur, King John’s nephew and stumbling block to the throne, Rodriguez claims Constance is "one of the fiercest mothers in the canon," and an anchor of wisdom in a play about the shifting interplays between legitimacy and power.

"This is my directorial debut, and my first job is this rather thorny play," Rodriguez said. "But frankly, I’m a person who loves a challenge. King John is a character we think we know from tales such as ‘Robin Hood,’ or the play ‘Lion in Winter.’ But he’s more than a mythical character. While not perhaps a great king, he’s fodder for wonderful stories, and this is one of the best."

At a glance

Utah Shakespeare Festival

The Utah Shakespeare Festival presents its 52nd summer season of plays June 24 through Aug. 31 on the Southern Utah University campus in Cedar City.

Shakespeare classics » In the outdoor Adams Theatre: “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” directed by Laura Gordon; “The Tempest,” directed by B.J. Jones; and “King John,” directed by Robynn Rodriguez.

Contemporary plays » In the indoor Randall L. Jones Theatre: Reginald Rose’s “Twelve Angry Men,” directed by David Ivers; Rick Elice and Wayne Barker’s “Peter and the Starcatcher,” directed by Brian Vaughn; and “Anything Goes,” directed by Brad Carroll.

New American Playwrights Project » series directed by Charles Metten in the Auditorium Theatre. Series includes Larry Parr’s “Shunned,” Ed Morgan’s “Twenty Seven,” and Tom Cavanaugh’s “Adam & Yoshi.” For contemporary adult audiences.

Tickets » $31-$72; at 800-PLAYTIX or http://www.bard.org.

Also » The festival offers ticketed backstage tours and free daily literary and production seminars, play orientations and greenshows. The Grind Coffee House, 19 N. Main St. in Cedar City, also hosts live cabaret shows featuring festival actors and crew Thursdays, 11 p.m. beginning July 18.

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A room with a view • The political intrigue of "King John" on the festival’s outdoor Adams Theatre will be matched—perhaps even exceeded—by the same themes on display at the indoor Randall L. Jones Theatre.

Reginald Rose’s "Twelve Angry Men" has long been considered a classic "well-made play" for its almost microscopic examination of human motives so tightly constructed and focussed that it takes place in one spare room. But festival co-artistic director David Ivers, director of this production, said he was at first attracted to the work for its political themes. When cast against our own era of political gridlock, he said the play’s impact becomes magnified.

"As dramatic literature it’s a shining example of character analysis," Ivers said. "As a play of relevance, my hope is that it might expose the fact that we’ve perhaps lost the time in which twelve men can sit in a room and be open to having their minds changed."

While the drama is well-known across the generations, Ivers said he hopes to create an atmosphere in which the audience nonetheless feels it’s seeing the play for the first time.

"Someone said during rehearsal that it’s like playing Act V, Scene 2 of Shakespeare for 90 minutes. Those are usually Shakespeare’s longest scenes, in which he puts the most bodies on stage," Ivers said. "It’s a lot like trying to figure out the staging of spilling pencils. You must do a certain amount of math, and then hope no one sees that math revealed in the play."

As a concentrated view into the minds of dramatic characters, "Twelve Angry Men" may prove the ideal entry point into this year’s summer offering of the festival. It’s also a point from which the rest of the festival’s offerings—from light to dark, from whimsical to serious, and from dense to expansive—extend outward.

"Every year we do our best to put together a program that says, in essence, ‘If you’ve been here before, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come back," said R. Scott Phillips, the festival’s executive director.

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