By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
William Shakespeare will return for his seventh summer vacation at the University of Mississippi.
The Oxford Shakespeare Festival, which runs Friday to June 2, features a comedy, a tragedy and a musical at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts and Meek Hall Auditorium.
“We’re calling it ‘A Royal Season,’” said Joe Turner Cantú, the festival’s artistic director. “That’s our theme for the season.”
It’s easy to see how the theme applies to “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,” as well as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I.”
The comedy on the schedule, “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” also has a royal connection, albeit a dubious one.
“It kind of plays like a contemporary bedroom farce,” Cantú said. “Some have said it was written after a special request from Queen Elizabeth I.”
According to legend, the queen liked the character of Falstaff in Shakespeare’s “Henry IV,” so Shakespeare wrote the play for her.
“This is set 200 years after ‘Henry IV, Part 1’ and ‘Part 2,’” said Dex Edwards, director of “Merry Wives.” “Suddenly, this character shows up 200 years later.”
Falstaff arrives in plenty of time to make a royal fool of himself.
“Everyone is making fun of him,” said 13-year-old Gavin Douglas, who plays William Page. “He’s trying to woo the merry wives of Windsor, and they play little jokes on him. At the end, we dress up like fairies and scare him.”
On a deeper and darker note, the festival will present “Hamlet,” the story of a Danish prince who’s denied the throne when his uncle marries his mother.
Brian Tichnell, 24, of Petal, is playing the title role for the first time, and he’s taking his job seriously.
“When something’s that big, something’s that iconic, that complete and deep, you can’t ‘do’ Hamlet,” he said. “You have to let Hamlet ‘do you.”
Tichnell said “Hamlet” is arguably the finest piece of literature in Western Civilization. Iowa resident Gwendolyn Schwinke, who plays Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, added that there’s always something new to find in the play.
“Shakespeare’s language is so deep and so complex,” she said. “As an actor, you can discover new things in it again and again.”
The play usually runs about four hours, but Cantú, who’s directing, has trimmed it to about two hours and 15 minutes.
“The way Joe has shaped the show, it’s very tight and action-packed,” Schwinke said. “It’s a very active show.”
To shave or not to shave
It’s not a great thing, but it’s a convenient thing for festival organizers that Shakespeare has been dead for so long that no royalties are required to stage his work.
The same can’t be said for Rodgers and Hammerstein, but Magnolia Hill Entertainment stepped up to pay the royalties for “The King of I.”
“That’s made it possible for us to do this,” Cantú said.
As a result, Ryan Milstead, 25, of Okolona, has been practicing his royal bearing to play the king. OSF’s version will draw from the movie that featured Yul Brynner.
“We’re taking bits and pieces from that because everybody knows it,” Milstead said.
As you may recall, Brynner is bald in the movie. Milstead, however, has a full head of hair that’s he’s interested in keeping.
“They’ve discussed shaving my head,” he said. “Maybe they’ll just cut it really short, or we might use a bald cap. We don’t know yet.”
No doubt all of the big decisions will be made by the time the curtain rises, and all the theater company will need is an audience for William’s summer vacation in Oxford.
“We want to draw as many out-of-town people as possible,” Cantú said. “We’re the only Shakespeare festival in Mississippi. We’d like for our festival to become a destination for people from throughout the region.”
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- What: Oxford Shakespeare Festival
- When: Friday to July 2
- Where: University of Mississippi’s Ford Center for the Performing Arts and Meek Hall Auditorium
- Tickets: Plays: $14/adults, $11/students and seniors. Musical: $18/adults, $14/students and seniors
- Info: (662) 915-7411, www.olemiss.edu/depts/tickets/order.htm
- “The Merry Wives of Windsor” – 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, June 18 and July 1; 2 p.m. June 13, 19 and 26. Meek Hall Auditorium
- “Hamlet” – 8 p.m. June 19, 25 and July 2; 2 p.m. June 20. Ford Center
- “The King and I” – 8 p.m. June 24 and 26; 2 p.m. June 27. Ford Center