Patrick Page returns to Cedar City this week, sharing Shakespeare’s thoughts on evil with audiences who weren’t yet born when the actor’s portrayals of Richard III, Iago and Macbeth made him one of the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s legendary figures. Page will perform a brand-new one-man show, “All the Devils Are Here,” for students attending the high-school Shakespeare competition presented by USF and Southern University.
His return to the festival after a 28-year absence unfolded like a drama buff’s version of the popular children’s book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.”
First, Utah State University in Logan invited Page to give a convocation lecture for its Caine College of the Arts. As long as he was out West, the actor reckoned, he could perform at the fall gala of Arizona Theatre Company, where his friend David Ivers, former co-artistic director at USF, recently signed on as artistic director. Then Michael Littig, co-founder of Page’s acting studio in New York, mentioned he was adjudicating at the USF/SUU Shakespeare competition the next weekend and suggested Page sign on as well. It isn’t that far from Tucson to Cedar City, after all.
“Well, if I’m going to adjudicate, it seems silly not to perform,” Page said in a phone interview from his New York home. “When I was a young actor, I learned so much more watching experienced performers than I did having somebody tell me things or try to teach me.”
What to perform, though? There was an idea he’d been toying with for years: “a one-man evening in which I go chronologically through Shakespeare’s career, from 1590 to 1611 — 21 years — and explore a single theme, to see how he developed and grew in his thinking.”
What is the nature of evil? How can good people be brought to commit bad acts, and can they be rehabilitated? Those questions appear throughout Shakespeare’s 37 plays, said Page, who will trace the Bard’s treatment of that theme in “All the Devils Are Here.” (The title comes from a line in “The Tempest.”) There will be no costumes or props, just the power of his voice. As was the custom in Shakespeare’s time, when actors playing Julius Caesar and Mark Antony wore doublets and hose rather than togas, he’ll dress in contemporary clothing.
Page noted that Shakespeare’s views evolved “from the conventional thinking of his time, which we unfortunately still live with, of revenge as a workable and inevitable part of life: When someone does wrong to you, the way to restore balance is to do something wrong to them. … By the time he wrote ‘The Tempest,’ he had come to a different conclusion.”
Students at the Shakespeare competition will see “All the Devils Are Here” for free in the festival’s open-air Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre, which opened last year. “So I can at least say I’ve performed on it,” said Page, a mainstay on the festival’s old Adams Theater stage in the 1980s and one of the first actors to perform in the indoor Randall L. Jones Theatre when it opened in 1989. (He’ll perform for a paying audience later in the day in the Anes Studio Theatre, the festival’s black box.)
“This is an amazing chance for people to see (as the Wall Street Journal put it) ‘one of America’s leading classical actors,’ and thrilling to see this classically trained actor on the Engelstad stage,” USF education director Michael Bahr said. “He is the ultimate theatrical role model for students attending the Shakespeare competition, and he was foundational in my understanding of the power of Shakespeare’s text in performance as a college student. … It lives through him. There is a muscularity and ease with which he would perform.”
Page’s résumé also includes high-profile Broadway appearances such as the Green Goblin in “Spider-Man: Turn on the Dark,” the Grinch in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” and Scar in “The Lion King,” “but Shakespeare is his roots, and I can’t wait for people to see him here in Cedar City on our fantastic stage,” Bahr said.
Page wrote and starred in a similar one-man survey of the Shakespeare canon, “Passion’s Slaves,” nearly 30 years ago. “I really can’t do that one now,” the 55-year-old actor said of the anthology that includes characters like Mercutio, Benedick, Hamlet and Richard II — men in their 20s and 30s. “All the Devils Are Here” focuses on more seasoned men: Macbeth, Prospero, Falstaff, Shylock.
Wait, Falstaff’s a bad guy?
“He‘s the person who corrupts Prince Hal,” Page said. “He’s an old devil, a thief; he makes the prince of England into a thief. He was based on the character of Vice in the old morality plays, representing gluttony and thievery at a time when plays were still allegorical.”
Is it true that villains, or at least morally complicated characters, are the most fun to play? “If I were to generalize, it is,” Page said. “What acting is, of course, is the pursuit of something by a character … and villains want something very badly.”
Don’t bother, they’re here
Patrick Page will offer the Caine College of the Arts’ convocation lecture in Logan and will give a public performance of his new one-man show, “All the Devils Are Here,” in Cedar City.
Convocation lecture/performance • Monday, Sept. 25, 7 p.m.; Caine Performance Hall at Utah State University, Logan; free
‘Devils’ • Friday, Sept. 29, 2 p.m.; Eileen and Allen Anes Studio Theatre at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Southern Utah University campus, Cedar City; $25; bard.org