Timothy Findley's Elizabeth Rex anchors this summer's repertoire at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival as the two plays featured in the play about Queen Elizabeth hanging out with William Shakespeare's players make up the rest of the festival's schedule: Much Ado About Nothing and Antony and Cleopatra.
Elizabeth Rex, which premiered at the Stratford Festival in Canada in 2000, is a fictional tale of Queen Elizabeth in a state of agitation on the eve of the Earl of Essex's execution. As a diversion, she summons Shakespeare's company to perform Much Ado About Nothing and ends up in conversation with the actor Ned Lowenscroft who plays Beatrice. The queen is a woman of passion (Essex may have been one of her lovers) who has to act like a man to govern; Ned is a gay man who makes a career of acting as a woman. Listening in is the playwright himself, copping some of the conversation as he writes his next play, Antony and Cleopatra.
Illinois Shakespeare Festival, located on the Illinois State University campus in Normal, will open the three plays in the sequence laid out in Elizabeth Rex: Much Ado opens July 11, Elizabeth Rex on July 12, and Antony and Cleopatra on July 13. All performances are in the Theatre at Ewing and The Center for the Performing Arts.
"I am particularly excited about this season because of the link through all three productions," said Kevin Rich, the Festival's artistic director, in an e-mail to Shakespeareances.com. He will be directing Antony and Cleopatra. Jonathan West is helming Much Ado About Nothing, and Paula Souzzi is directing Elizabeth Rex.
The Much Ado becomes the production Queen Elizabeth watches before she appears in her own play. As such, it will be presented in original practice style with an all-male cast. The other productions will feature other original practice elements, as well, such as universal lighting, audiences sitting on the stage, and direct-address from actors to audience. As Shakespeare in Elizabeth Rex shares some of what he's written with the queen, Deborah Staples playing Elizabeth in that play then plays Cleopatra in Shakespeare's play.
This is the festival's 37th season and following up on a year when it introduced matinees and a rain/heat space in case of inclement weather, guaranteeing no rainouts. This "was a big hit with our out-of-town patrons who made ISF a weekend getaway, as it's now possible to see everything ISF has to offer with just one overnight."
June 23, 2014