Shakespeare isn't just good for you; it's a lot of fun, too.

Published: Thursday, July 17 2014 1:00 p.m. MDT

Updated: Thursday, July 17 2014 3:27 p.m. MDT

A scene from in Utah Shakespeare Festival's Henry IV Part 1.

Karl Hugh, Utah Shakespeare Festival

I finally got around to seeing “Edge of Tomorrow,” the Tom Cruise sci-fi version of “Groundhog Day,” and I’m pleased to report that it did not disappoint. It was chock-full of amazing action sequences and witty banter, and I had a great time at the movies.

Yet for all of its charms, it wasn’t even close to the best action thriller I’ve seen this summer.

No, that distinction belongs to “Henry IV Part One,” one of the six plays I saw live on stage down at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City. Not only was the writing better, but the swordfights were all less then 10 feet away from me! (Talk about 3-D!) There is an immediacy, energy and intimacy to live theater that even the most accomplished film will never be able to match.

Someone willing to plunk down 10 bucks to see “Edge of Tomorrow” might consider “Henry IV,” too.

Actually, I’d recommend any of this year’s offerings. “The Comedy of Errors,” set in the Old West, kept my 9-year-old son in stitches more than any Disney movie ever has. “Twelfth Night” was funny, too, as well as touching. “Measure for Measure” is a much more complicated story with fewer laughs but plenty of high-stakes drama. And the non-Shakespeare plays included a perfectly delightful version of “Sense and Sensibility” having its world premiere in Cedar City. And then there was a near-perfect version of “Into the Woods,” which also happens to be my favorite musical of all time.

There's good stuff at the festival this year.

And yet I write this knowing that a substantial portion of the people who would enjoy these plays will never see them. Indeed, many of them won’t even consider live theater as an option.

Some theater folk, when confronted with the reality that a large chunk of the populace isn’t interested in what they do, respond with a sort of elitist shrug. If the masses had any sense at all, these folks say, they’d support the theater and leave Tom Cruise behind. They end up scolding their potential audiences in an attempt to shame people into doing what’s good for them.

Shame, however, is not a particularly effective way to sell tickets.

There are a host of things I could list to describe why the Utah Shakespeare Festival is a state and national treasure. I could point to the Tony Award it won in 2000, or I could highlight its ambitious plans to build a brand-new world class arts center next to the SUU campus. I could read you all the bios of the gifted performers and directors and technicians who make this amazing festival one of the best of its kind in the world.

All this would impress you. But I’m not sure it would sell you.

So I’m writing this to the people who don’t set foot in a live theater unless you’ve been dragged there. Please know that I understand and respect your position. I, too, am at a place in my life where my entertainment choices are driven solely by what I like, not what I ought to like. If something is boring or tedious or pretentious, I’m not interested. You shouldn’t be, either.

I’m happy to report, then, that this year’s season at the Utah Shakespeare Festival isn’t boring or tedious or pretentious. I think you should see these plays not because they’re good for you, but because you’ll have a lot of fun. It’s got action, it’s got romance — it even has a gun-toting nun.

Trust me. Tom Cruise has got nothing on that.

Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.

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