Specificity. That's the magic pill that will allow today's viewers to relate to these 400-year-old characters. Too many festival performances have been far too general. And I think it's irresponsible of a critic not to say so (while at the same time acknowledging that mine is only one opinion).
I'm not even convinced that serious actors are all that disturbed by negative reviews, which they shouldn't be reading anyway. Actors are the first to know how hard it is to make these plays work; they know that the keenest satisfaction is in the striving and that there is nothing dishonorable about not attaining one's loftiest goals. Long before he became a film star, Christopher Walken played Romeo at Stratford, Ontario. Even after his initial movie roles, he was Macbeth at Lincoln Center, Hamlet at the Seattle Rep. Walken once observed, "If you fail a few times, what happens? The critics give you terrible reviews, or you get booed. I was booed in Romeo at Stratford. So what? It's not as if somebody takes you out in the alley and beats you up. You go home; you're depressed. But nobody really hurts you. You learn that getting bad reviews is not all that serious. Next time you'll do better. Failure teaches you that you never get anywhere being careful. I don't know of a more important lesson for any actor to learn and keep relearning."
Next summer Shakespeare Festival St. Louis surely can do better than they did this season. Artistic Director Dawn McAndrews will be into her second year on the job. She'll be working for the first time with a play of her own choosing. Perhaps between now and next May she can even resolve the festival's identity problems. That could be a big step forward, because it really does work wonders when everyone involved with a production is enthusiastic about wanting to tell the same story.