We were not planning on opening this section of EDITORS’ PICKS until July, but last night we were so stirred by a production of Macbeth that we cannot hold back. Right now, the third annual ARKANSAS SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL is taking place on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas (our headquarters) in Conway. In fact, for the past few weeks there have been sweating swordsmen clanging heavy metal and practicing lines outside our office (we did not learn they were actors until our chief editor attempted to rescue a barefoot maiden whom he thought was under siege). The Festival debuted last night—10 June—with Macbeth. We were expecting to like it. Last year, we saw the Festival’s production of The Tempest and liked it. The Festival is, after all, not a locals-only event. Actors and talent from all over the nation have competed for spots in the show.
But what we did not expect was to love the performance. We were, in the end, flabbergasted by the excellence we witnessed.
In large part, our affection is due to the two leads: Jessejames Locorriere, of Nashville, who resembles a more youthful Mel Gibson in both comic and sturdy lead-actor timing and whose accessible performance does not waver (even when he mangled the start of a few lines) and UCA English teacher Paige Reynolds, whose Lady M. is both ethereal and utterly believable. We already knew Paige from around campus and, again, we expected to her to be good…but great? No. With all due respect, we didn’t expect Paige Reynolds to be great—after all, she’s just a local, right? But now we can look you in the cyber-eye and say, calmly but firmly, that Paige Reynolds’s performance is the best Lady M. we’ve seen on screen or stage. She also has a sweet singing voice. Oddly enough, the rest of the cast is also first-rate. (When it comes to Shakespeare plays, we are used to inconsistent casts—in which only a few actors shine and the rest ham it up or stumble.) A lot of credit is due, no doubt, to Matt Chiorini’s inventive direction, which is crisp, urgent, and, when appropriate, comic.
Along with Macbeth, three other plays—Taming the Shrew, The Producers, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—will be shown at the Festival until June 28. To judge from this one dazzling production, the Festival already demonstrates national-level quality. For that, the Festival deserves patronage not just from Conway but from Little Rock, Fayetteville—and Memphis.
For more info about the Arkansas Shakespeare Festival, please visit their website.