Vacationing in Winona, Minnesota, & The Great River Shakespeare Festival

Winona, Minnesota

Winona, Minnesota

Vacationing in Winona, Minnesota, may not sound ideal.

Yet it is.  This beautiful college town, located on the Mississippi River, has scenic bluffs, twin lakes, wide bicycle lanes, a riverfront park,  a historic downtown, the Blue Heron coffeehouse (which serves local, organically grown food), and even two bookstores.

But we really come for The Great River Shakespeare Festival (June 24-Aug. 2).   Great acting, great directing–and the plays are indoors, in a lovely auditorium on the Winona State University campus. There are free concerts on the Green afterwards (with food trucks)

Beatrice (Tarah Flanagan) and Benedick (Christopher Gerson) in

Beatrice (Tarah Flanagan) and Benedick (Christopher Gerson) in “Much Ado About Nothing”

This year we saw Much Ado About Nothing.  I expected little–a light comedy.

Yet Much Ado is not so light:  it is both hilarious and chilling; witty and suspenseful.  We laughed at the banter between Benedick (Christopher Gerson) and Beatrice (Tarah Flanagan), the brittle couple who cannot quite fall in love because of their sharp tongues.

From Act 1, Scene 1:

118 What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet
119 living?

120 Is it possible disdain should die while she hath
121 such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick?
122 Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you
123 come in her presence.

And so the flippant, harsh teasing goes on.

And yet they come together, by the comical plotting of Don Pedro (Andrew Carlson), who manages to tie up their love up neatly with a bow.  With the help of the much nicer, duller romantic couple,  Hero and Claudio, the men and the women separately talk loudly about Benedick and Beatrice’s love so Beatrice and Benedick can overhear.

But that is not all. There is a  gruesome turn to the plot , when  the prince’s evil brother, Don John (Robert Ramirez), breaks up Hero and Claudio, by persuading the men that Hero is a wanton.

Claudio devastatingly confronts Hero at their wedding and says she is a slut he will not marry.  All the women know Hero is innocent.

Naturally, it all works out.  We knew it would.  But there is the serious trope of Hero’s feigned death. (Love and death!)   The Friar, who believes Hero’s insistence that she knows no man but Claudio,  decides the men should be told that she died  because of their accusations. (She is, of course, alive.)  This trope also occurs, only tragically, in Romeo and Juliet, which you can also see at GRSF this summer.

One thing we like about The Great River Shakespeare Festival is that, though there has  been some turnover, many of the actors are here every year and are now coming into the starring roles–and doing beautifully.

In 2009,  we saw a production of The Tempest with Tarah Flanagan as Ariel, Christopher Gerson as Caliban, and  Michael Fitzpatrick (the witty, sophisticated Leonato in Much Ado)  as Stephano.  We have seen them grow as actors.  They are all superb.

If you stay in Winona for a few days, you must also check out the Root River Trail (east of Winona).  If you start in Lanesboro, a historic town on the bluffs with antique shops and restaurants, you can have dessert in Whalan at World’s Famous Pies.

A lovely place for a short vacation!

6 thoughts on “Vacationing in Winona, Minnesota, & The Great River Shakespeare Festival

  1. It does indeed sound lovely, and if you get Shakespeare and bookstores thrown in too, that makes it perfect! 🙂


  2. That does sound like a beautiful place to holiday, book shops and Shakespeare! I went to an open air production of Twelfth night last year in the grounds of a National Trust property. There was only a small crowd of about forty or fifty people and we all had deck chairs and picnic blankets and boxes of goodies to feast on oh and wine, it was glorious.


  3. a recent 4 week Future Learn on Much Ado About Nothing: from which a few notes:

    Among its strengths is how it concentrates on particular productions. So what they talk about is concrete. The theme is that the play is dark — even if it’s Love’s Labor’s Won, and how it’s acted/filmed/directed/set. It’s often been set in different places and ages. It’s been fine course the way discussion, clips, photos and linked in lectures have been combined, with background photos of setting, videos moving in and out of stages. That made what was said imaginable and of course visualized and heard. The actors were extraordinary and we saw them rehearsing bits over and over in different ways as well as a final “product.”

    4 weeks

    The first: four darker productions – Trevor Nunn’s 1968 production, John Barton’s 1976 production Di Teven’s 1988 production and Gregory Doran’ s2002 with Harriet Walter as Beatrice; 1976 Judi Dench as Beatrice

    Second week: Shakespeare Re-told, 2005, Brian Percival the director, David Nicholls, the screenplay writer a movie changing the words, with Billie Piper as Beatrice, Damien Lewish as Benedict, Martin Jarvis as Leonard

    Third: Current production Christophers Luscombe as director, takes place in Warwickshire, chose Charlecote Park near Stratford, a Renaissance building, much renovated inside so it could be an Edwardian era just after WW1. It became a movie 2015 – made real rooms afterward; it’s just a play filme.d

    The fourth week was a fulfillment of all that had gone before. One week on the darker productions stressing an interpretation of the play that made it deep and serious; then Shakespeare Re-told how modern language and attitudes re-filter the play and bring out its living universality; then a distanced and wholistic study of the current production from the perspective of place, staging, era, as a movie. Michelle Terry and Edward Bennett discussed their characters from the point of view of how to prepare to act it and what you did while you acted. She was better at this than him; opened up her heart and showed her conception of the character was consistent and gave remarkable depths; then they discussed the crucial scene at the chapel after Claudio tries to destroy Hero at the church; then we watched them act it on a YouTube.

    Then I saw one of the productions they presented;

    I’m sure it was a lovely day for you both. I love going to these festivals of plays set in countryside ina summer theater. Jim and I did it many times.


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