Fort Worth — Shakespeare is for all seasons, yet he seems especially suited for summer. There is just something about his poetry and plays that signals reflection and relaxation, green growing things, and sometimes a canopy of stars even when it is sweltering outside. For nine years the best Bard in North Texas happens in the comfortably air-conditioned environs of the Trinity Shakespeare Festival at Texas Christian University.
TSF produces two plays every summer season in true repertory. The shows revolve throughout the run and the same actors are in each show with their roles balanced accordingly. This year they tackle a “problem play” comedy, Measure for Measure, and a beloved history, Richard III, for an intriguing one-two punch.
The soul and wit of TSF is founding artistic director T.J. Walsh. He directed last year’s resplendent The Winter’s Tale, and has been responsible for festival favorites The Tempest and The Taming of the Shrew. This year he helms an intense and intellectual Measure for Measure that does “justice” to how complicated the play is.
Most of its complexity lies in the protagonist, Vincentio the Duke of Vienna’s (Richard Haratine) odd decision to go incognito leaving the nefarious Angelo (Montgomery Sutton) to rule in his stead. Morality and love-sex-and-death dilemmas abound in the corrupt Italian city and Angelo shows little mercy cleaning it up. The lack of real resolution in the play also muddies things up, yet Walsh handles the conclusion quite well.
TSF artistic associate Haratine’s “duke of dark corners” is nimble and persuasive; however, I would like to see more variation in his Friar Ludowick personation. The man of many powerhouse roles at the festival (Prospero, Shylock, and Leontes) TSF artistic associate, J. Brent Alford, is steadfast as lenient Lord Escalus. Kelsey Milbourn (who also choreographs both shows beautifully) is a bit understated as the chaste Isabella who must fend off seemingly every male character’s advances.
Perennial favorite and TSF artistic associate David Coffee pleases as Pompey, an incarcerated clown. Garrett Storms, who is a bit too over the top here, is Lucio, a “fantastic” friend whose loose lips seal his fate.
Montgomery Sutton, in his first time back to TSF since 2015, after a stint in London as a member of the International Actors Fellowship at Shakespeare’s Globe, is fantastic in his subtle take on one of the Bard’s boldest villains.
Both plays benefit by incredible design and technical elements. For Measure, Will Turbyne’s set dominated by a large, circular partial church portal is like a window to the world with various landscapes projected from behind and illuminated by Michael Skinner’s lighting design, and supplemented by Kate Marvin clarion sounds. Lloyd Cracknell’s period costumes also set the mood for this dark play.
Richard III is even more aesthetically pleasing with a cadre of designers at the top of their game. Brian Clinnin’s stained glass art deco ceiling that dapples light and shadows (Tristan Decker) on an intricate parquet floor is stunning, and Aaron Patrick DeClerk’s Victorian-era costumes are striking in their detail.
Directing Richard III, a play that had multiple iterations around DFW last year, is Stephen Brown-Fried, who previously delivered TSF masterpieces A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing.
Richard does not work without a director who is keenly aware of the villainous intricacies of Shakespeare’s first outstanding drama, and an actor able to embody the “deformity” of the play’s antihero. Brown-Fried and Blake Hackler fill both requirements admirably.
Making Richard truly soar falls upon the lead’s hunchbacked shoulders and Hackler, who is fast becoming one of the area’s finest actors, does not disappoint. He owns his villainy from the outset, and slow-burns to the character’s tragic end. Hackler is restrained until he is not. When he lets the murderous villain loose (especially in a tense, table-rattling episode) it’s a tingling theatrical moment. He had me wishing for even more of those moments.
Alford’s ill-fated Buckingham is excellent, as is Lynn Blackburn (making her TSF debut) as an exasperated Queen Elizabeth. Sutton cements his place as this season’s standout in his moving portrayal of George, Duke of Clarence. His nightmare scene in the prison cell is chilling.
Storms does yeoman-like work and shows his range as Richmond and the Second Murderer, as does Coffee as Hastings. A thoroughly enjoyable vision of cackling and curses is Sarah Rutan’s Cassandra-like Queen Margaret.
It is Trinity Shakespeare Festival’s mission “to produce the work of Shakespeare with clarity, creativity and conscience” with a “respect for the tradition.” Next year they will complete a decade of fulfilling that mission and furthering their own worthy tradition that is “more lovely and more temperate” than a summer’s day.
- 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 22: Richard III
- 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 23: Measure for Measure
- 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 24: Richard III
- 2:30 p.m. Sunday, June 25: Measure for Measure
- 7:30 p.m. Sunday, June 25: Richard III
- 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 28: Richard III
- 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 29: Measure for Measure
- 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 30: Richard III
- 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 1: Measure for Measure
- 2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 2: Richard III
- 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 2: Measure for Measure