PSU-Fayette sets stage for 42nd Shakespeare Festival

| Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, 6:21 p.m.

Whether it's a slapstick comedy or a tragedy loaded with political intrigue, the 42nd annual Shakespeare Festival, scheduled for Monday through Wednesday at Penn State, The Eberly Campus, has something for all theatrical tastes.

Dennis Brestensky, professor emeritus of English at Penn State Fayette, says Shakespeare was unusual in that he wrote both comedies and tragedies with equal skill.

“Shakespeare had a balanced view of life,” Brestensky said. “He had a natural gift for understanding humanity.”

Brestensky established the festival in 1972 in order to make Shakespeare more appealing to his students. The festival has since grown from a one-day affair to nearly a week.

He is pleased that this year the festival will feature two full-length productions from the National Players — “The Comedy of Errors” and “Macbeth.”

“The Comedy of Errors” tells the story of two sets of identical twins who were accidentally separated at birth. Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant, Dromio of Syracuse, arrive in Ephesus, which turns out to be the home of their twin brothers, Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant, Dromio of Ephesus. When the Syracusans encounter the friends and families of their twins, a series of wild mishaps based on mistaken identities lead to wrongful beatings, a near-seduction, the arrest of Antipholus of Ephesus, and false accusations of infidelity, theft, madness and demonic possession.

“Macbeth” is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy and tells the story of a brave Scottish general named Macbeth who receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become king of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan and takes the throne for himself. He is then wracked with guilt and paranoia, and he soon becomes a tyrannical ruler as he is forced to commit more and more murders to protect himself from enmity and suspicion. The bloodbath and consequent civil war swiftly take Macbeth and Lady Macbeth into the realms of arrogance, madness and death.

Chad Long, manager of student affairs, says that this festival engages students outside of the classroom.

“They see Shakespeare go from the page to the stage,” Long said. “It's a real-life experience.”

He says it gives high school students the opportunity to have a collegiate experience. College students can benefit as well from interacting with professional actors.

“Aspiring actors, of course, will value this experience,” Long said. “Business majors will have the opportunity to see how a company is run. It can be an experience for all students.”

Leah Tilley, manager of the National Players, said that Shakespeare's universality is the main reason that the work still appeals to audiences worldwide.

“Even though his stories are set in different times, these stories still are very relatable to modern audiences,” Tilley said. “We're going to modernize ‘Macbeth' by setting it in post-industrial Scotland. We're going to show the relationship between the power struggles in that story and the power struggles today, especially in the Mideast.”

The festival will feature displays, including photos taken by Brestensky, projects from Brestensky's students and artifacts from the collection of Jeffrey Martin.

All events will be held in the Maggie Hardy Magerko Auditorium. Admission is free. Reservations are required to see “Macbeth” and “The Comedy of Errors.” For reservations, call 724-430-4271.

This year's festival is funded largely through the Maggie Hardy Magerko Endowment.

Barbara Starn is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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