Illinois Shakespeare Festival

The 20-year-old Illinois Shakespeare Festival is the state’s largest repertory showcase for the Bard’s work. Supported by Illinois State University, it’s traditionally served as a stepping-stone for student actors, but this is no mere academic outreach program; its colorful, well-acted open-air productions also feature pro and semipro performers from Chicago’s off-Loop scene and around the country. Guided by artistic director Calvin MacLean (known for his fine work with Famous Door Theatre Company and other Chicago troupes), the festival offers three plays in a lovely outdoor setting–the grounds of Ewing Manor, a 1920s mansion built by Wrigley heiress Hazle Ewing and her husband (Sunday matinees take place in the university’s Westhoff Theatre, as do evening shows in bad weather). This season–the festival’s first under a full Actors’ Equity contract–is highlighted by the world premiere of The Falcon’s Pitch, Jeffrey Sweet’s new adaptation of Shakespeare’s three Henry VI plays. Sweet focuses on Margaret of Anjou–the ruthlessly ambitious “she-wolf of France,” arguably Shakespeare’s greatest female role–tracing her evolution from King Henry’s captive bride to leader of the virtuous but ineffectual monarch’s army in the Wars of the Roses. The part’s a terrific vehicle for noted classical actress Tandy Cronyn (daughter of Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn), whose credits range from Broadway to Canada’s Stratford Festival. Also on the calendar are Measure for Measure and Much Ado About Nothing. The three plays are available to single-ticket purchasers or subscribers (there are weekend packages with local hotels); prices range from $10 to $22 per show, or $20 to $45 for subscriptions. Picnickers are welcome, and evening performances are preceded by interactive “green shows” in the manor’s courtyard, in which actors familiarize viewers with the plot. Stage combat displays, madrigal singers, walks through Ewing Manor’s lush Shakespearean garden, and a gift shop (natch) round out the offerings. Running June 18-August 8, the festival features performances Tuesdays-Wednesdays at 7:30 PM, Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 PM, and Sundays at 2 and 7:30 PM. The box office is located in the Westhoff Theatre, School and Beaufort streets on the Illinois State University campus in Normal; most performances take place at Ewing Manor, Towanda and Emerson streets in Bloomington. For more information, call 309-438-2535.

–Albert Williams

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Tandy Cronyn uncredited photo.