by Matthew Falduto
Photos by Bob Goodfellow
Iowa City – I’ve already waxed poetic about how wonderful it is to have an outdoor theatre in our little Iowa town so I won’t bore you with more of that. Instead, I’ll just say… get yourself to the Riverside Festival stage and check out one of the two fantastic shows they are presenting in rep this summer! You can check out my review of Pericles here, but today we’re going to talk about The Fair Maid of the West, which I had never heard of before seeing Riverside’s announcement for their summer shows. The show was written by Thomas Heywood somewhere around 1600, which makes it contemporaneous with Shakespeare’s works. It was adapted by Kevin Theis.
This is quest show, as Bess Bridges leads her companions to recover the body of her slain love, Spencer. There is much sword fighting, a shipwreck and a foreign king to contend with. The audience gets to experience the excitement of the adventure along with the characters.
What’s wonderful about the play is its heroine, the brave and dashing Bess Bridges. She’s strong and smart, and can handle herself in a male dominated world. Kris Danford is excellent in the role, creating a memorable character. She’s an excellent scene partner, and her work raises all those around her. Her true love Spencer is played by William Goblirsch. Goblirsch has excellent stage presence and does a fantastic job portraying the lovesick and moral Spencer.
Bess’ three companions on her adventure are the clever Goodlack (Eric Damon Smith), the brave Roughman (Patrick Du Laney) and the loyal Clem (Ari Craven). Each of these actors is perfectly cast in their roles. Goodlack is tempted to betray Bess, but chooses instead to support her. Smith is excellent in this scene, showing both the shrewd conniver and the remorseful friend. Craven provides much humor throughout the show as Clem. He has excellent comic timing and handles the Elizabethan language well. I know many people are uncertain about attending a Shakespearean era show because they fear they won’t understand what’s going on – the language is different than ours. Fortunately, Riverside has found actors who can make the old fashioned language clear to our modern ears.
One of the standout performances of the show is Du Laney as Roughman. Roughman has a wonderful character arc moving from belligerent coward to brave hero. Du Laney shines in every scene. As the strutting jerk in the early scenes, we loathe him. When Bess stands up to him forcing his cowardly nature to appear, we cheer as he gets his comeuppance. Yet, and this speaks to Du Laney’s talent, we also pity him. There’s a moment when we see Roughman considering all he’s done in his life, and Du Laney delivers this introspection wordlessly and brilliantly. He vows to change and strides off. I only wish director Sam Osheroff had chosen to highlight the moment on the stage rather than on the steps stage left. This play is a rip roaring, swashbuckling adventure, but in the midst of that Du Laney found a quiet moment to give his character depth. It all pays off in the second act as Roughman becomes the hero. Du Laney’s performance as Roughman alone is worth the price of admission.
Another performance that must be mentioned is Rian Jairell as Mulisheg, the king of the foreign land Bess and her companions find themselves in after a shipwreck. Jairell commands the stage as the humorous Mulisheg. Riverside legend Jody Hovland portrays his advisor, Alcade, and the two of them have an excellent rapport, bringing much humor to their scenes. Considering Jairell’s excellent performances in both Pericles and Fair Maid, not to mention his impressive performance earlier this year in Line of Descent, I hope he becomes a Riverside regular.
A swashbuckling tale needs great sword fights and this play is chock full of exciting battles. Paul Kalina’s fight choreography is thrilling to behold. At one point, there was a comedic fight happening on the balcony while a seven (eight?) person sword fight happened center stage. My companion for the evening remarked that he wanted to see the show again, so he could watch the sword fights and catch moments he missed the first time. If you love a good sword fight, you will not be disappointed.
The technical work was excellent as well, particularly the sound design by Frank Thomas and the lighting design by David Thayer. Finally, I have to mention director Sam Osheroff’s work bringing the entire show together. The director is responsible for creating a strong picture for us to enjoy, using the actors and scenery and the technical aspects to bring out the emotions in the story. He must pull together all of the elements of the production to create one cohesive story, and if he does it well, most people don’t even realize what he’s done. Take my word for it, Osheroff did an excellent job creating this story for us.
Riverside’s return to the park can only be considered a triumphant success. I encourage you to see both Pericles of Fair Maid of the West, but if you have to choose one or the other, to my mind Fair Maid of the West edges out Pericles. It’s fun and funny, with emotional moments that will get ya. It runs through July 10. Ticket available here.