There are two recurring themes running through the 42nd season of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival.
"The letter 'M,' perhaps?" asked Producing Artistic Director Charlie Fee.
Indeed, ISF's first three productions of the season are Misery, Macbeth and Mama Mia. Bundle those with a new adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and an added September production of the musical, Beehive, and Fee has curated a season of dramas and musicals that feature fascinating, strong roles for women—the second clear theme.
"There's no question that we're focusing on very strong women characters," said Fee. "I picked this season 18 months ago, and I wasn't setting out to say, 'You know, let's do a season that really focuses on women.' However, as the season began to develop, I leaned into it."
Fee and his company are waist-deep in rehearsals and shows begin Friday, May 25, but he set aside a few minutes to talk with Boise Weekly about the two first shows, both of which he's directing.
Let's start with Misery, a recent stage adaptation of the Stephen King novel and Oscar-winning film.
This stage adaptation is from William Goldman, the master screenwriter who gave us Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men, The Princess Bride and the screen adaptation of Misery. Stephen King's sensibilities lean toward the horrific and are usually on the absolute edge of the human condition. Plus, he's very funny and very dark. That's why I was so interested in casting Kathleen Tague as Annie and Andrew May as Paul. They're both wonderful, dramatic actors. But underneath all that drama is the fact that they're both zany comics. So, that script immediately came to life as soon as they entered the room.
Kathleen Tague and Andrew May star in Misery, running in repertory this summer at ISF.
Misery was a wildly popular film, so I'm assuming that most of the audience will be pretty familiar with its plot.
It's very much about the relationship of Annie and Paul, and that's why it works so well as a theater piece. Paul is a very famous writer, who has essentially built himself a gilded cage of success, which is why he wants to kill off his famous romantic heroine, Misery.
But Annie is having none of that.
She is, as she says, his number one fan. It's an interesting take on artists becoming trapped by their own success. Take Robert Downey Jr.. How many of the Avengers films has he done? Ten? It's an incredible place to be trapped, if all you're after is money and fame. But look at Paul in Misery. He feels that he's not the artist he should be. He's an artist in crisis.
You've already mounted this production of Misery in Cleveland at the Great Lakes Theater. What was the reaction there?
Standing ovations every night. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, because it definitely draws a new audience.
Let's talk about your next deep dive. You're also directing Macbeth this season.
When we produced Hamlet last summer, we experimented with an architectural design that referenced the historic Globe Theater, creating an experience where the audience could sit onstage. Audiences enjoyed it so much that we immediately knew that we wanted to use it for Macbeth. And our acting company is absolutely on fire in this production. Lynn Berg is Macbeth, and he has stepped into a number of roles for us over the years, and with every season he's better than the one before. He's at the absolute height of his power right now. Our Lady Macbeth is the dynamic Erin Partin. The two of them are magnificent.
Macbeth's themes have, directly or indirectly, continued to be a constant in popular dramas for over four centuries.
We're in a world surrounded by horrific, evil governments, and evil is continually referenced in Macbeth. Think of it, Macbeth was a great heroic soldier who, at the beginning of the play, has essentially saved the nation of Scotland in a battle that no one thought could be won. He's a brilliant, loyal soldier to his nation. But then he is given insight by the witches that there might be a future that is different. He begins to use the word "murder" almost immediately. With the dangling possibility of great power, he is sucked into a world that he never previously imagined for himself. He can't escape it and, of course, he's destroyed by it.
I've always looked at the three witches in Macbeth as similar to today's media, stirring the cauldron, influencing, pushing and pulling Macbeth into all kinds of diabolical directions.
As a member of the media yourself, I'll let you draw that analogy. Now that I think of it, I'm imagining a contemporary production of Macbeth with all three witches as members of the media. It would be a rather horrible indictment.
I'd be remiss if I didn't quickly ask you about your other two big shows this summer.
Well, the opportunity to do a new stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was too good to pass up. Everything aligned. Think of this for a moment, we'll be performing Pride and Prejudice in rep with Mama Mia. That's pretty interesting.
Was Mama Mia on your wish list?
I can't tell you how many people have asked me, "When are going to do Mama Mia?" People started asking me six years ago, when it was still on Broadway. But now, we finally got the rights.
Are you prepared for audience members who may want to sing along?
We're prepared for everything. However, a word of caution: Please be aware of the person who is sitting next to you, especially if you're singing too flat or sharp.
But a glass of wine or two and...
Join right in. ABBA songs are a blast to sing, especially at the curtain call.