Sixty years ago visionary producer Joseph Papp dreamed up the idea of Shakespeare in the Park. It’s become an institution in Central Park in New York City and, since 1954, dozens of other locales have repeated the concept across the United States and beyond. Our own Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has been at it for at least a decade, and you can find outdoor performances in many cities, including Baltimore, Cleveland, Kansas City, Mo., Louisville, Ky., Philadelphia and Portland, Ore.
But Cincy Shakes does it in a big way, producing a tour that travels from park to park throughout Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. This year’s tour, the most comprehensive ever, will present 26 performances from Oxford to Batavia and Burlington, Ky., to West Chester. (For a listing of dates and performances, head to cincyshakes.com.)
It starts this weekend with performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Eden Park’s Seasongood Pavilion on Friday evening, at Glendale’s Harry Whiting Brown Lawn on Saturday and at Milford’s Community Park Pavilion on Sunday.
Showtime is usually at 7 p.m. Productions are trimmed to take approximately two hours, retaining all the essential story elements. Through the end of August, you can enjoy performances of Midsummer Night’s Dream as well as Macbeth. Six actors constitute the entire touring cast, handling multiple roles and showing off their versatility.
If you’ve never experienced a Shakespearean production, these open-air performances are an excellent way to discover what these great plays are about — laugh-out-loud humor in Midsummer Night’s Dream and a tragic spiral of ambition and murder in Macbeth. If you’re a Shakespeare veteran, it’s a delight to take in these lively presentations of works you know well in relaxed, outdoor settings.
Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s most popular comedy, tells a tale about what happens when feuding fairies meddle in the love lives of human couples. The result is comical misadventure, with confused identities and a downright ridiculous play-within-a-play. It’s great fun to watch the cast of six actors play fairies and lovers as well as the pompously ignorant weaver Nick Bottom and his inept friends, the “Rude Mechanicals,” as they comically try to rehearse and perform a play for the Duke’s wedding. This is a story in which the happy ending is never in doubt.
That’s not the case with Macbeth, perhaps Shakespeare’s darkest tragedy, driven by prophecies, ambition, murder and madness. After an encounter with three witches on a battlefield in ancient Scotland, Macbeth, a powerful military leader, makes a decision that changes the course of his life. Betrayal, love, bloodshed and tragedy litter his path in this chilling, supernatural tale. How far will he go to capture the throne and satisfy his power-hungry wife? She drives him on until they both are tormented and destroyed by visions and guilt for the crimes they have committed.
Admission to these park performances is free. Since it’s open seating, it’s recommended that audiences arrive early for good views, perhaps bringing along a picnic dinner.
Following the August performances, Cincy Shakes tours these productions to local schools, community centers and other performing arts locations until May 2015. Last year, the tour reached more than 7,000 people. In fact, the company’s education and outreach programs reached nearly 30,000 young people and underserved community members during its most recent season by taking Shakespeare into the community and by hosting educational matinees of productions on its mainstage.
Cincinnati Shakespeare likes to call itself a “stage for the classics.” Throughout the year the company produces a dozen mainstage productions in its theater at 719 Race St. in downtown Cincinnati. In addition to the plays of Shakespeare, Cincy Shakes produces adaptations of great works of classical literature (such as Oliver Twist) and contemporary classics (its 2014-2015 season opens in September with an adaptation of The Great Gatsby). Last season, the company became one of the first five theaters in the United States to “complete the canon” by producing all 38 plays by William Shakespeare since its founding in 1994.
In a very tongue-in-cheek manner, Cincy Shakes repeats that feat this summer with audience favorite The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). This wacky comedy condenses all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays into 97 minutes. It’s onstage through Aug. 16.
CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]