By John David Back
Do you like parks and teenage angst? Do you enjoy 425-year-old prose set to contemporary hip-hop beats or getting wine-drunk on a Tuesday? Do you get a kick out of watching actors pretend murder one another?
If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, then Shakespeare in the Park — running through Sept. 1 — is a good bet for you.
For a decade, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has spent the summer traveling to parks around Greater Cincinnati and performing free shows of Shakespeare’s classics. Attending Shakespeare in the Park is a singular experience. For one, while the dialog is all original Shakes, the dress and body language and haircuts are modern. (I doubt Juliet’s nurse in the late 1500s was typically played buy a bearded guy named Josh.) For two, if you are nervous about going to Shakespeare, this is free. Costs no money.
I caught two Shakespeare in the Park shows: “Romeo and Juliet” at Eden Park on a Saturday night, and then “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Keenher Park in West Chester on a Tuesday night. Both evenings started with spitting light rain, but quickly became very nice. (And really, how often do you get to use an umbrella at the theater?)
ROMEO & JULIET
“Romeo and Juliet” was the play I was most familiar with, and I really enjoyed the production. It’s a little jarring, to me, to hear Shakespeare’s words, but see 2016 people and outfits, so that always takes a little getting used to. But as you let yourself get into it, you love it. Tybalt was a bad SOB, Romeo is lovesick to death (literally), Juliet is perhaps the most emo girl of all time. The venue itself, Seasongood Pavilion at Eden Park, is super cool, though I wish I had brought bug spray. Bats came out when it got dark, and that lent a really eerie, morbid quality to the death scenes.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was entertaining, though pretty confusing if you’re not familiar with the play. Still, the cast’s slap-stick performances made the show very kid-friendly. The director, Caitlin McWethy (who was in attendance), collaborated with Kick Lee of Elementz to set much of the dialog to hip-hop music, which was very neat. The comedy ends with a play within the play, and that was perfect and hilarious.
IN A PARK
One note on venues: You are in parks, so other people, people not interested in watching the performance might be around. Whoever books events at Keenher needs a sharp rap on bare knuckles, though, as there was a Boy Scout event with a hundred fever-mad pre-adolescent boysmaking one hell of a ruckus immediately behind the audience for a while. As previously mentioned, the weather affects you, too, which can be nice. “Midsummer” ended with a huge rainbow.
Overall, Shakespeare in the Park is a great, free, easy-as-hell thing to do on a summer evening in Cincinnati. Pack a picnic. Pack a some wine or beer. (Check park rules — or don’t. Just be responsible.) And be entertained.
– Bring a blanket
– Bring plenty of snacks
– Get there about 15 minutes early for a prime spot
– Laugh your ass off when it’s funny – it’s not rude! You’re outside!
– Smuggle in wine/beer
– Bring a cute date
– Bring bug spray
– Bring your really wild pre-teen kids and give them loud electronic toy guns so they can have a raging gun-fight during “Romeo and Juliet” (You know who you are.)
– FaceTime during Romeo and Juliet (Lady, are you serious?)
– Not donate. Just drop a couple of bucks into their bag at intermission. Totally worth it.
– Keep an umbrella up. Bring a raincoat if it’s likely to be wet.
– Try to catch the bats. Very unsafe.