Monday, January 1, 2018

What I Read And What I Rejected in 2017

In 2016, I read 137 books, which is above my average of 120 books per year.  A death in the family, a new curriculum at school, and some major life changes kept me way below average in 2017, and I read only 81 books, which is rather embarrassing.  Nevertheless, here is my list:

2017

Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah **** historical mystery a la Christie 1/2/17
Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham ***** YA multicultural mystery a/a 1/5/17
MacBeth by Shakespeare (again) ***** tragedy 1/17/17
Inside the Magic: the Making of Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them by Ian Nathan **** 1/18/17
Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz (again) ***** non-fiction, food 1/25/17
A Study In Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas **** NA mystery 1/27/17
The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison (2nd time)***** LDS cozy mystery 1/28/17
 His Right Hand by Mette Ivie Harrison (2nd time) ***** LDS cozy mystery 1/29/17
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (again) ***** drama 1/30/17
 For Time And All Eternities by Mette Ivie Harrison **** LDS cozy mystery 1/30/17
 To Helvetica and Back by Paige Shelton (2nd time) ***** cozy 2/4/17
 Bookman Dead Style by Paige Shelton ***** cozy 2/6/17
 Blood by Blood by Ryan Graudin  **** YA alt history WWII 2/12/17
 Caraval by Stephanie Garber *** YA postmodernist fantasy 2/18/17
 Unmentionable by Therese Oneill ***** non-fiction, feminist, humor, Victorian 2/23/17
 Globe: Life in Shakespeare’s London by Catharine Arnold non-fiction, history    **** 2/28/17
 Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones YA fantasy *****(*!) 3/3/17
 All The Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister ***** non-fiction, feminism 3/18/17.
 Daughter of the Pirate King by by Tricia Levenseller ***** YA a/a, fantasy (sirens) 3/19/17
 A Taste of History: 10,000 Years of Cooking in Britain by Peter Briers et al (again) ***** non-fiction, history, cooking. 3/25/17
 These Vicious Masks by Shanker and Zekas ***** (2nd time) YA a/a fantasy, alt history 3/26/17
 These Ruthless Deeds by Shanker and Zekas **** YA a/a fantasy, alt history 3/26/17
 The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman (2nd time) *****YA alt-historical fantasy 3/28/17
 The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman *****YA alt-historical fantasy 4/2/17
 Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly *** non-fiction, history, biography, space-race 4/10/17
 The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron *** romance posing as historical mystery 4/12/17
 Acadia: The Complete Guide by James Kaiser **** non-fiction, travel 4/24/17
 MacBeth by William Shakespeare (2A) ***** drama 4/26/17
 Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (1A) ***** 4/26/17
 Healthy Slow Cooker Recipes for Two by Pam Ellgen **** non-fiction, cooking 4/28/17
 MacBeth by William Shakespeare (4B) ***** drama 5/1/17
 Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (3B) ***** 5/2/17
 Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (3A) ***** 5/3/17
 Celine by Peter Heller *** sort of a mystery 5/2/17
 MacBeth by William Shakespeare (4A) ***** drama 5/4/17
 MacBeth by William Shakespeare (1B) ***** drama 5/5/17
 Hunting Badger by Tony Hillerman ** crime, 5/26/17
 Bound: Over 20 Artful Handmade Books by Erica Ekrem *** non-fiction, crafts *** 6/2/17
 The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova **** realistic/historical adult fiction 6/4/17
 The Wailing Wind by Tony Hillerman **** mystery 6/7/17
 The Sinister Pig by Tony Hillerman **** mystery 6/9/17
 A House Full of Females by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich ***** non-fiction, history, feminism 6/21/17
 Rogue One by Alexander Freed **** sci-fi/StarWars 6/28/17
 A Gentleman’s Guide To Vice And Virtue by MacKenzi Lee ***** NA historical adventure 6/30/17
 Murder at Mistletoe Manner by Holly Tierney-Bedford *** cozy 7/9/17
 Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas **** YA fantasy sans magic 7/11/17
 Hotel Ruby by Suzanne Young *** typical YA light horror 7/13/17
 Signs & Symbols by DK publishing ** non-fiction (tiny print, bad illustrations) 7/14/17
 The Lost City of Z by David Grann **** non-fiction 7/23/17
 York by Laura Ruby **** MG/YA historical fantasy 7/25/17
 Twelve Angry Men ***** drama, realistic 7/30/17
 Beauty Sick by Renee Engeln **** non-fiction, women’s issues 7/30/17
 The Crime Book (DK) (no author listed) ***** non-fiction 7/31/17
 Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom by Bradley Schenck ***** retro sci-fi 8/6/17
 The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss **** holmes/monster mash-up YA w/older characters 8/8/17
  Diabetic Cookbook by Diana Watson * non-fiction, cookbook 8/9/17
 The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell **** YA Fantasy 8/15/17
 Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories by Washington Irving ***** short stories 8/20/17
 Twelve Angry Men ***** drama, realistic 1A 8/31/17
 Twelve Angry Men ***** drama, realistic 4A 8/31/17
 Twelve Angry Men ***** drama, realistic 2B 0/1/17
 The Develin Diary by Christi Phillips **** historical mystery 9/8/17
 Southern Fried by Cathy Pickens **** cozy mystery 10/1/17
 Eat Fresh: Awesome Recipes for Teens by Rozanne Gold & Phil Mansfield **** cookbook 10/9/17
 A Spoonful of Murder by Connie Archer *** cozy 10/10/17
 Teeth: Oral Health in America by Mary Otto *** non-fiction, history, health 10/13/17
 Blood Sugar: The Family by Michael Moore *** non-fiction, cookbook 10/16/17
 That Inevitable Victorian Thing by EK Johnston *** YA alternate history 10/20/17
 The Doubleday Cookbook by Jean Hansen & Elaine Hanna ***** non-fiction, cookbook 10/20/17
 Rather Be The Devil by Ian Rankin ***** mystery/crime 11/17/17
 Larceny and Old Lace by Tamar Myers *** cozy 11/19/17
 The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen   Beckett ***** Austen/Bronte pastiche fantasy 11/22/17
 The Secret, Book, And Scone Society by Ellery Adams **** cozy 12/5/17
 Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones ***** YA alt history, A/A fantasy 12/7/17
 Sherlock Holmes: Tangled Skeins by David Marcum **** mystery/pastiche 12/23/17
 Comic Sans Murder by Paige Shelton ***** cozy mystery 12/24/17
 The Power by Naomi Alderman ***** dystopia (adult) 12/28/17
 Steampunk Lego by Guy Himber *** non-fiction, art/crafts 12/28/17
 The Cozy Cookbook by various authors *** non-fiction, cookbook 12/29/17
 From Farm to Fork by Emerill Lagasse ** non-fiction, cookbook 12/30/17
 Snow Way Out by Christine Husom *** cozy mystery 12/31/17



And, as always, there were books I rejected.  Here's that list:

2017
Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. The main characters were distant, robotic, and unappealing.  about 36 pages. 2/8/17
Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H Wilson all violence and weak females 80 pages 8/11/17
The Sacred Stone by the Medieval Murderers 15 pages, the story had a childish tone and did not catch my interest. 9/17/17
Golden Hill by Francis Spufford. It’s supposed to be a historical mystery, but in 25 pages all I’ve seen is an obnoxious protagonist who is merely secretive about where his money comes from.. It’s arguing and no action, and I don’t have the patience for it. 9/29/17
The Breath of God by Jeffery Small. This is Dan Brown pastiche, which would be OK except for a couple of things: 1) instead of having a physical reason (i.e. a clue hidden in a historical building) to travel, Small has his characters run around the world to meet up with people who might have just made a phone call or set a letter by registered mail, and 2) his characters are stupid, making the dumbest mistakes and assumptions.  I cannot abide stupid protagonists.  When I reached 220 pages, I tossed it aside near the end of September.
Love: The Psychology of Attraction by DK publishing. This was actually good, but my father’s illness and death prevented me from finishing it before I had to return it to the library. 16 pages. mid-October.
What Happened by Hillary Clinton.  This was very interesting but my father’s illness and death prevented me from finishing it before I had to return it to the library. I will either purchase it or else request it from the library again in a few months. 47 pages. mid-October.
Cross My Heart And Hope To Spy by Ally Carter. So dull.  So cliche -- even for a fluffy YA mystery.  It’s like a bad sit com. 52 pages.  mid-October.
One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake. I liked the first one, but it’s been too long since I read it, and I don’t recall the details.  This one lost my interest three chapters in. 12/15/17

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Recipe: Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Soup tonight!
Here's what I put together, in case anyone wants a pumpkin recipe:

1 tablespoon butter (could use olive oil or broth)
about 1/2 cup each or more of the following chopped veggies:
white onion
red and yellow sweet peppers
zucchini
green beans
about 1/2 cup or more frozen peas (thawed)
1 large stalk of celery, sliced thin
about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of canned pumpkin (NOT seasoned for pie filling)
about 1/2 cup rice (I used instant, but any kind would do, as long as you cook it long enough)
I 1/4 lb frozen turkey patty, thawed and partially cooked in microwave (or freshly-ground turkey, partially cooked)
about 1 quart of water
about 1 heaping teaspoon of Penzey's Chicken Soup Base
about 1 1/2 tablespoons (or to taste)Penzey's Northwoods Fire
about 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of Penzey's Four Peppercorn Blend
about 1/8 teaspoon Penzey's Kosher Flake Salt
about 1/8-1/4 teaspoon Penzey's # Roasted Garlic (regular garlic would work fine)

I thawed the peas and beans (because I cheated and used frozen green beans) in the microwave while I stir-fried the onions, peppers, and zucchini in butter in a 6-quart pan.
I then added the peas and beans to simmer in butter while I heated the water in the microwave and dissolved the soup base in it. I added the seasonings to the veggies in the pan while I cooked the turkey patty and broke it into chunks.
I then mixed the turkey and broth into the pan with the veggies and butter and let this cook on medium for about 15 minutes.
At that point, I added the rice and stirred in the pumpkin. I found I needed more water, so I added a little at a time.
Once it was boiling, I turned it to medium-low and let it simmer about 30 minutes to blend all the flavors. It got a bit too thick, so I added a little more water again and let it heat a bit before serving.

This could easily be made as a vegetarian dish by using olive oil instead of butter, omitting the turkey, and using Penzey's Vegetable Soup Base instead of the chicken soup base.
I suppose you could make it with spices that didn't come from Penzey's, but why would you? ;)

Penzeys.com (or they have a store in Draper, for my Utah friends)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

How To Avoid Getting Sucked Into Fascism

Friday and Saturday, Nazis marched openly in the streets of Charlotteville, while the police watched the violence escalate until alt-right Nazi James Field killed somebody.
As I looked at the video clips and photos from the march, I cannot see anyone marching who looks older than 30.  Have these people no connection with the Greatest Generation?  Are they so far removed from folks in their 80s and 90s that they've never spoken with someone who lived through or fought in World War II?  Have they never met someone with a concentration camp number tattooed on their arm?  (I was 18 the first time I saw it for real, defacing the flesh of a woman.  I had no words, no answers; I just let her tell me her story.)
Well, we've been here before, and the US already has some handy films on how to spot fascism before you get sucked into thinking it's somehow OK.
Check out this link and watch the short film.
https://archive.org/details/DontBeaS1947


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Book Review: Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom by Bradley W. Schenck

This is my favorite read of the summer!!
I love steampunk.  (No, this is not steampunk; just hear me out, OK?) I love the whole concept of a world where science reality continued as it was in around 1870 or so: no electricity, but steam and clockwork and Darwinism not thoroughly understood and ether!  Wow.  It's just so fun to live in those worlds while I read.
Now, Schenck has done a similar thing with his retro-sci-fi.  It's sort of "rocketpunk," if you will.  His premise for all of his books and much of his (fantastic) artwork is this: What if science had gone on the way it was imagined in the action/adventure and sci-fi stories of the 1930s?  Thus he creates "stories of the retro-future."  In Slaves, for example, he has characters use an iPad-like device called an Info-Slate -- but there's no high-speed internet; there isn't even dial-up.  Instead, the information is routed via a switchboard, where humans (or enslaved robotic persons) must plug and unplug different connections, the way phone operators did for decades.  It's just so amusing to see the world he creates.
The plot is crazy fun, well-paced, and full of little twists.  The characters are surprisingly well-developed.  The artwork is fabulous!  And the humor!  Oh my.  It's like reading Douglas Adams, but set decades earlier.
If you have a good sense of humor and like sci-fi, pick this one up.  You'll be glad you did.
And even if you're not a sci-fi person (it's really not my favorite genre, but I own all of Schenck's books), give this a try anyway.  It's more Jetsons than Star Wars.
Oh, just go buy a copy; you'll love it. :D

Book Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss

Have you ever wondered what would happen if an author tried to create a feminist mix of Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper, Frankenstein, Jeckyll and Hyde, Rappuccini's Daughter, the Island of Doctor Moreau, Dracula, and just a smidgen of Dante and Beatrice?  Well, wonder no more!  Goss has made a metafictional monster mash-up of chaste YA with mostly older characters who interrupt the narrative to make comments (rather reminiscent of Alisdair Gray's Lanark).
In spite of how messy it sounds and how 2-dimensional the characters are, it's actually quite a good tale.  Goss has great plotting and pacing skills, and she does not indulge in a frequent habit of authors: writing in unnecessary running around just to show off how much research was done.
Also, although this is clearly the start up book for a whole series, it does have a decent ending with a fair amount of resolution.  I liked it well enough that I will probably read the sequel when it comes out.
The book is reasonably well-edited, although the author (and her copy editor) has a problem with the use of "who" and "whom" in three separate occasions.
There is a bit of a dilemma as to who the intended audience is.  The book is very nearly sex-free, with mentions of birth control, prostitutes, and one character's former "relations" with a man, but the characters are much older (with 2 exceptions) than usual for YA.  That could be overlooked, but the author assumes the reader has a good familiarity with Conan Doyle, Shelley, Stevenson, Hawthorne, Wells, Stoker, Dante, and, of course, the factual parts of the Whitechapel Murders.  I've taught school for decades, and I can assure you that very few teens are that well-read.  In fact, most adults aren't that well-read.  So, then, is Goss' intended audience YA-loving women?  If so, why does the book so carefully tip-toe around sex?  (The main character, Mary, is vaguely crushing on both Holmes and Watson, as if she were ten, for she appears to have no hormones at all.)
Overall, however, it's a action-packed tale and not a bad read, even if the author rather buried herself by trying to work in too many threads.

UPDATE: When I posted this review on Amazon, I could not help but notice that I was right in guessing that many readers would not grasp the literary references and allusions.  One "reviewer" complained that the title was "stupid," clearly not even grasping the fact that it's from Stevenson's book on which the main character is based.  Another reviewer couldn't tell the difference between classic literature and a "penny dreadful."  I rolled my eyes so hard it hurt.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review of York by Laura Ruby



This is sort of MG/young YA. The author writes 13-year-old protagonists who are more what the parents of 10-year-olds want their kids to be at 13 than what 13-year-olds are actually like.  These 13-year-olds, for example, have no hormones whatsoever and behave like responsible 10-year-olds.  That part is a bit bizarre.
The plot is sort of Dan Brown for grade schoolers also.  Our hormoneless trio races from place to place in an alternate reality NYC wherein things are solar powered and clean, a BETTER NYC, if you will.  Each time they easily find clues to help them in their goal of saving the old, history-filled apartment building they call home.  The kids do not grow, change, or mature.  This is not Harry Potter, folks.
That being said, the pacing is good.  The plot rips along at a very good rate until.....WAIT FOR IT.....until there is no real ending because.....SEQUEL!!!  I mean; why write a good book for kids if you can stretch it out with filler and make a SERIES, right?
Sigh.
Look; this could have been really good.  I enjoyed much of it (the setting, for instance, is well-explained), but I won't read the sequel.
If you put this next to anything by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Beverly Cleary, or Judy Blume, it pales.
On the other hand, if your kid wants to read it, encourage her/him.  It's far, far better than RL Stine or endless rounds of phone games.
If you're an adult that loves YA, I'd suggest checking this out from the library (as I did) rather than shelling out bucks for it.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Review: The Utah Shakespeare Festival 2017 Season

 UPDATE: I returned to the Festival on August 5, seeing Midsummer a second time and watching two newly added shows, Shrew! and Long-Lost First Play.   This review has now been updated to include this information.

I go to the Utah Shakespeare Festival almost every year, and most years, I review the plays here on this blog.  I skipped doing the reviews in 2016 because the Festival had new buildings and a weird new schedule, and I ended up going so late in the season that it seemed pointless to post reviews.  But for 2017, I attended all preview shows, so the season is just barely starting, and my reviews may be helpful.
First, let me review the festival itself.
This is the 56th season of the festival in Cedar City, Utah (roughly a 3 1/2 hour drive from Salt Lake City). Cedar City is a college town, smallish, but with plenty of lodging and easy, free parking for the festival (completely unlike the idiotic situation for the festival in Ashland, Oregon).  Most years, the festival does three Shakespeare plays (often one history, one comedy, one tragedy --- but this is not the case this year) and three other plays, which generally include a musical, a kid-friendly play (some years, this is the musical, such as last year, when Mary Poppins was presented), and either a serious drama or a non-Shakespeare comedy.  The ticket prices are reasonable, and the schedule is arranged so that theatre -goers may see all 6 plays in 3 days (except last year, when things got weird).
The festival has won many awards, including a Tony, and it attracts top-notch stage actors.  But the best part of it is the community feel.  Every morning after the plays, seminars are held.  In the first week, the directors of the plays come to these and answer audience questions, but throughout the season, actor seminars are also held.  Furthermore, the actors, the artistic director, and the festival founder himself mingle with the patrons.  It's perfectly fine for ordinary patrons to approach an actor who is walking about on site; they are not stand off-ish at all.  There are also classes and camps and tours designed for different ages and interests; one can take a week-long course in theatre tech or a seminar in stage combat or simply go on a guided tour of the backstage areas.
However......
The festival has had to move to all-new buildings, and this hasn't really been great.  The old theatre looked like a Tudor building on the outside and was shaded by huge, old trees on a grassy area of the Southern Utah University campus.  The new theatre is concrete and industrial.  It looks like a product of Cold War Russia, all grey, lifeless, and designed to suck out one's soul.  Until 2016, the morning seminars were held in a grove of tall pine trees with a view of a grassy, park-like space.  Now the seminars are held in a hot, mostly unshaded area between the theatres.  It's concrete and gravel and has all the ambience of a parking lot.
But it's still worth it.  The plays are wonderful and the people of the festival are fantastic.  I love it.
Below are my reviews of the individual plays of the 2017 season:

A Midsummer Night's Dream:


Do NOT miss this one!!!
Wow.
This Midsummer is set in the 1920s, with a teal-green Art Deco Athens and a glitzy chrome Yin/Yang forest.  The costumes are FREAKIN' GORGEOUS!  (See Hippolyta above.)  The light cues match the magic of the fairies.
It's often that a director chooses to cast the same actors for Theseus and Hippolyta as for Oberon and Titania, and this is true with this production.  However, the director also has the same actors who play the Rude Mechanicals also play Titania's following of fairies, and the parallels in color and action are delightful to pick out. The actor playing Puck also plays Philostrate (except she was very ill the day I saw the preview, and her part was read by the assistant director, so I cannot comment on this Puck).  Only Nick Bottom (hilarious, by the way) and the lovers play single roles.
This is a superb production.  It's funny where it's supposed to be funny. (Yes, I am very familiar with this play.)  It's sexy enough without being unfit for kids. (The last time the festival did this play they made it a kids' version and took all the sexuality out of it, which was a shame.)  The subtleties between Theseus and Hippolyta work.  The physical comedy is spot-on.
In fact, the only thing I didn't like was that Oberon was not a very good-looking guy, and I prefer a handsome King of the Fairies.  However, his acting made him wonderful.  (And, of course, Melinda Parrett, my very favorite of all the festival women, plays Hippolyta/Titania.  She's nothing short of fabulous.)
This play is so good I would happily pay to see it again.  And, since this play runs all the way through October, I may very well do that.  (Note: the festival also has plays that open later and run later in the season.  Obviously, I cannot comment on those.  Check Bard.org to learn more about The Tavern, Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play, and How To Fight Loneliness.)
UPDATE:  I DID see it again!  I went back on August 5, specifically to see the Words Cubed Shrew! and Long-Lost First Play (reviews for which follow at the bottom of this post), and I loved it even more!  The addition of Kelly Rogers as Puck made it even more fabulous, as she is wonderful.  Also, numerous subtle-but-effective bits of physical humor have been added.  This show is amazing, and it runs through October.  Do NOT miss it!!



As You Like It:
 As You Like It is a delightful comedy, but a lot of non-English teacher types don't know much about it, and some people find it a bit confusing.  That, however, is no reason to miss this production: Bard.org has play summaries and introductions, as does the printed program, and there is a play orientation (free) before every single performance of every play at the festival.  The plot is convoluted, but it's a fun, light-hearted play, and this production is good.
OK, the set is a bit monotonous, but once the scene changes to the Forest of Arden, it is very pretty, if unchanging.
The director has cut a lot of this play and moved a few things around, but it works.  The costumes are good (Have a look at Rosalind/Ganymeade's jacket above.  Isn't it great?) and the acting is very good.
Rosalind is played by Cassandra Bissell (who also plays Helena in Midsummer and is fabulous there as well), an actor who is only second to Melinda Parrett (see Midsummer) in my opinion of women often appearing at the festival.  She is brilliant in this role.  And Jeb Burris is a fabulous and very believable Orlando. Michael Elich's take on Jacques is entirely different than I've ever seen before; he plays him as a sarcastically depressed man, and this makes his insult war with Orlando a bit of theatre perfection.
This is a very good production of As You Like It.  If you like live theatre, don't miss it.

 Romeo and Juliet:
To be honest, since I taught 9th grade English (usually multiple periods thereof) for 28 years, it is very likely that I know Romeo and Juliet better than either the director or actors of the play; I've simply read/seen it literally scores of times.
I know every single line that was cut -- and I got the director laughing after the seminar when I teased him about cutting most of Mercutio's filthy jokes.  And I've seen dozens of different interpretations of the play.
Thus, I feel very qualified to review this one.
Overall?  It's pretty good.
The set was dull.  Someone decided it would be a good idea to use the same set for the first part of As You Like It, all of R& J, and presumably also Shakespeare In Love.  It's boring.  The only interesting things are Friar Lawrence's cell, Juliet's bed, and the tomb -- although the latter is still really stark and leaves out Tybalt.
The costumes, however, make up for the lack of set.  They are rich and delightful.  As many directors do, this one decided to stay with the color-coding chosen by Zefferrelli in the 1968 movie, and so the Capulets are in reds and other warm colors, while the Montagues are in cool blues, greens, and purples.
And the acting......
Betsy Muscavero looks about 15 for this production.  She plays a very innocent Juliet, which is different from what we usually get (the last time the festival did R&J, the gal who played Juliet did so as a headstrong, sulking, rebellious teen).  She is supremely convincing in gesture and expression.  It is truly HER show, HER story.
Romeo, on the other hand, is played by Shane Kenyon, who has a receding hairline and looks about 35.  He played Romeo as a nerd, the sort of guy who plays a lot of video games and has trouble talking to real people.  It was awful.  There was nothing attractive or romantic about him at all.
Mercutio, played by Jeb Burris (who was amazing as Orlando in As You Like It) was manic/depressive.  The director told me at the seminar that they wanted to make him jealous of Romeo's attention to Rosaline (but they totally left out any homoerrotic overtones).  It worked, but it meant that they had to kill all the humor in Mercutio's lines.  All in all, he was not my favorite.
Benvolio looked like Gene Kelly.  I totally wanted him to start dancing.  He was OK.  They didn't make him a coward -- but they didn't make him much of anything else either.  He was better looking than Romeo, though.
The parents are very interesting in this production, and Friar Lawrence is very good.
On the whole, it's definitely worth seeing --- but don't expect to fall in love with Romeo!


Guys and Dolls:

Guys and Dolls is a fun musical based on a set of stories by Damon Runyan (I've read them; they're not my favorites).  It's set in 1950s NYC and focuses on problems of Nathan Detroit (played by the KING of Comedy, Quinn Mattfield).  Nathan makes his questionable living by running a floating crap game, but he can't find a place to hold that night's game, and Big Jule is in town -- and you don't mess up Big Jule's crap game.  Nathan makes a bet with the high rolling Sky Masterson (played by the amazing Brian Vaughn, the festival's artist director) for $1000 in order to "rent" the Biltmore Garage for the crap game, a bet that Sky cannot get a girl of Nathan's choosing to go on a dinner date with him.  Sky's problems begin when Nathan chooses Sarah Brown, the leader of the local Save-a-Soul Mission.  Meanwhile, Nathan's problems get more intense when his fiance of 14 years, Miss Adelaide (played by my favorite, Melinda Parrett) begins to insist on marriage.
I was in a community theatre production of this play about 15 years ago, so I know it well, and I LOVED this version.  The set is great, the costumes are color-coded to help the audience keep track of all the gamblers, the singing is good, the jokes are all there, the choreography is wonderful, and the acting!  Well, how could it be anything less than stellar with the combination of Brian Vaughn, Melinda Parrett, and Quinn Mattfield?  They are incredible.
This is a fun, fun show.  Don't miss it.

Treasure Island:


This is the kids' show for this year, and it's pretty good.
Sceri Ivers plays Jim Hawkins in an adaptation that stays very close to the actual novel by Robert Louis Stevenson.  I personally thought that Ivers' costume detracted from her being believable as a 12-year-old, active boy (it was bulky and made her look fat and slump-shouldered, more like a teen couch potato than the Jim Hawkins who climbs the mast of the ship), but I was told my comments in the seminar would be passed to the director, so that issue may be resolved.
The set is exceptionally clever and has many levels. (See photo.)  And a real treat is that a good deal of live music is included.
Overall, this is not my favorite thing at the festival, but it was well done and I do not regret buying a ticket.

Shakespeare In Love:
To be honest, I didn't go to this one because I loathed the movie and still hate how the story confuses people who don't know anything about Shakespeare.  Most people who saw this play told me I was stupid for missing out.  I'll leave you to decide if you want to see it or not.  (I will state that the FABULOUS Quinn Mattfield plays Shakespeare himself; that may be enough to justify the purchase of tickets.)

UPDATE: The Utah Shakespeare Festival has long supported emerging playwrights through what is now called their Words Cubed program.  Until this year, I had never attended one of these dramatic readings done by professional actors.  However, I really wanted to see what playwright  Amy Freed had done with my least favorite Shakespeare play, The Taming of the Shrew, so I drove back to Cedar City to see it (plus Midsummer again and Long-Lost).  (Note: it was only $10.00.)
I will be honest: I don't think Freed solved the main problem of the play for modern audiences, which is that the plot condones the "training" of women to be what men want.  Yes, Freed solved various other problems in this early work of the Bard's, such as making Petrucchio far less of a jerk and giving an explanation as to why Vincencio behaves as he does, but Freed's Petrucchio STILL molds and trains Kate into the wife he wants; we are still left with the message that feisty, independent Kate is still somehow "wrong" and that only a man can change her. (Insert eye roll and barf emojis mentally here, please.)
That being said, here's what was marvelous: The experience itself.   The actors did not just sit in chairs and read; they improvved a great deal, had necessary props and costume bits, and made this a fabulous bit of entertainment.  Also, the audience members get to talk to the playwright and the director, giving feedback about this work, which is a great experience.  (Note: the director of this play was arrogant and condescending, so that was not pleasant.  But Ms. Freed was very interesting.)
This particular dramatic reading will run again Aug. 30 and Sept. 1.  If you're at the Festival, consider spending the ten bucks to experience this.

UPDATE: The Festival has now opened Shakespeare's Long-Lost First Play, and I went to see it on August 5.

(Photo: Beatrice and Richard III take a selfie while Puck looks on.)
I loved the 90s play by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged," the premise of which is that a troupe of three male actors attempt to give the audience a condensed version of every single one of the Bard's plays, all in 2 hours.  It's hilarious.
Long-Lost First Play isn't quite as good.
The premise of this is that 3 male actors find a massive script buried with Richard III's body in a parking lot (yes, that's anachronistic.), but since the play would be four days long, they attempt to condense it.  Many of Shakespeare's famous characters are included, under the guise that Puck, a fairy from Midsummer, and Ariel, a fairy from the Tempest (dressed as Ariel the Little Mermaid, a joke that is funny the first time but quickly grows stale), are having a mischief war with each other, trying to change the plays.  The result is mixed.
The acting in this is phenomenal.  I was amazed at the way these three guys kept it up.  (Note: actor Marco Antonio Vega had already been in Shrew! and Midsummer the day I saw this.  He did three plays in one day --  good thing he's young and energetic!)
The script is kind of a problem.  For one thing, I seriously doubt that anyone who is not well-versed in Shakespeare would get more than 30% of the jokes.  I'm a total Shakespeare freak, yet the script at least twice referred to Shakespeare writing a play featuring Don Quijote and thus inspiring Cervantes. I'd never heard of this before (and plan to look it up).  There was one joke about the "coast of Bohemia" where my laugh was the only audible one, so I'm guessing that reference to Winter's Tale went over most people's heads.
Another problem for some people would be the humor.  It ranged from the exceptionally clever to the incredibly lame.  On the one hand, we got the delightful pairing of the ever-indecisive Hamlet with the super-pushy Lady MacBeth (hilarious!) and again the scene wherein Hamlet tells all the players how to do their jobs countered with Nick Bottom telling all his fellow actors how he would do things the best (so clever!).  Then we get King Lear fart jokes on a third-grade level (uhhhhh, not really clever or funny).
Also, some of the jokes went into very questionable stereotyping, such as "all Arabs are part of the Taliban or ISIS" and "all feminists are ugly lesbian man-haters."  These made me cringe, and there were far better ways they could have handled the Caliban jokes and getting Juliet to use Shakespeare's insults.
So, my recommendation on Long-Lost is this:  do not miss it if 1) you know your Shakespeare, 2) you do not mind sexual humor (because there's a lot of it, much of it just as funny as the sexual jokes the Bard put into his own stuff), and 3) you're not upset about getting wet (put your cell phones away when they tell you to; they do the Tempest).  Do NOT go to this play if 1) you're a Bard newbie or 2) you're the sort who flinches if someone makes an off-color remark.  This is NOT the play to see for a Relief Society outing, people.


In summary, there are no losing plays at the festival this year, but if you are short on time and/or money and want to know the best, my suggestions in order of what to see would be as follows:
1) Midsummer
2) Guys and Dolls
3) As You Like It
4) Romeo and Juliet
5) Long-Lost (if you meet the above qualifications)
5) Treasure Island


In other words, if you can only see one play, make it Midsummer, if you can see two, let them be Midsummer and Guys and Dolls, and so forth.
Find tickets, photos, a calendar, play summaries, casts, directions, etc. at Bard.org.