Theater Review: Why Trinity Shakespeare Festival Delivers the Best Bard You’ll See in North Texas

Only three years into its short existence, and yet again, Trinity Shakespeare Festival continues to provide by far the best of the Bard’s work in Dallas-Fort Worth. After receiving funding from TCU for two years, they are now on their own, yet the quality is not diminished a whit as they take audiences on two disparate, yet glorious journeys in As You Like It and Macbeth.

Director T.J. Walsh, of the critically lauded Twelfth Night and Hamlet for the festival, delivers simply the most transcendent, heartfelt and clarion productions of As You Like It you are likely to see, from the inspired casting, the passionate and nuanced performances, to the beautifully simple aesthetics of the play.

The story of would-be lovers Orlando (Jonathan Brooks doing his youthful best) and Rosalind (Trisha Miller), among others, fleeing danger to the idyllic forest of Arden is merely a pretence to the many other wonders of this most theatrical of Shakespeare’s comedies.

Walsh plays up that theatricality in having the “All the world’s a stage” speech begin the play on a striking set (Clare Floyd DeVries) dominated by tall, soaring tree trunks that remain in and out of the forest scenes.

The play is quite the charmer already, however, its success hinges on the most vital of all of Shakespeare’s comedic heroines: Rosalind. The husky-voiced Miller (splendid in last year’s Much Ado) is lovely and exuberant, and blooms in her boyish weeds with a lively intellect to match. David Coffee’s Touchstone, a clown in Rosalind’s retinue, is a clever mash-up of W.C. Fields and the Mad Hatter using the patented squinty “Coffee Face,” and a thousand actorly gestures and quirks. Jakie Cabe as Jaques (recently brilliant in Theatre Three’s Travesties) is a gentleman of a ripe, sullen disposition who wallows in his melancholy with excitement.

Aaron Patrick Turner’s Edwardian costumes are a feast for the eyes, and jibe well with the vision of the courtly vs. the pastoral. Kudos for his work on the Scottish play as well.

Thank goodness Walsh is able to elicit such genuine, yet studied performances that capture that elusive and quintessential Shakespearean quality of characters overhearing themselves as if really thinking out loud.

The festival is a true repertory, using the same actors and crew for both plays. It is an intriguing and challenging exercise for all involved that pays rich dividends for comparison.

Director Stephen Fried’s incandescent Much Ado About Nothing for Trinity last year was nothing short of magnificent, and was the most superior Shakespeare production, if not the best play period, of the year.  Fried uses a similar deft touch for a much different creature in one of the darkest tragedies in the canon, Macbeth.

Firstly, the aesthetics from the team of Brian Clinnin, Michael Skinner, and Toby Jaguar Algya (Scenic, Lighting, and Composition/Sound design) are phenomenal in every sense of the word. Slate and stones with a mossy arched cave, scraggly tree, and scattered puddles dominate the thrust stage. There is a smoky ambience throughout punctuated by eerie music, bombastic sounds, and the clamor of war, all of which create a different take on nature and the elemental: As You Like It’s Arden is an earthly paradise, whereas Macbeth occupies an earthly hell.

The Three Witches (Morgan McClure, Kelsey Milbourn, Sophie Smith) are demonic and disgusting as they contort, and consort with dark forces. Richard Haratine’s Macbeth begins with wide-eyed wonder, soon transforming into a Fortune-disdaining, dizzy lunatic. He shines as the antic, mad tyrant, particularly in his “Tomorrow” speech.

Trinity Shakespeare Festival’s As You Like It is “wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful,” and their Macbeth is “yet again wonderful!”

Photo courtesy of Trinity Shakespeare Festival.

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