Could this be the end of Shakespeare in the Park?

Jul 19, 2013

The cast of The Comedy of Errors at Shakespeare in the Park in Portage
Credit Fred Western, Universal Photographic Services,Inc.

If you haven’t been to Shakespeare in the Park in Portage before, this weekend may be your last chance. The Comedy of Errors will be performed at the Celery Flats Amphitheatre in Portage, Thursday through Sunday. The City of Portage is cutting funding for its entire summer entertainment series, which includes concerts, movie nights, and the all-volunteer Shakespeare troupe.

Brad Poer will direct this year’s performance. He says if Shakespeare in the Park can’t find new funding, it will be a loss to the community and the volunteers who truly love what they do.

“We have actors that are in this show that this is the only…because of their work schedules this is the only kind of theatre that they can participate in over the course of the year. Because for whatever reason during the school year it’s just not viable. While there are Shakespeare shows being done by most of the local theatres in town, this particular spot in an outdoor environment such as this—it’s pretty unique here in the area. So it remains to be seen. This space where we’re performing it here is going to be open for rental only. And the only reason that we’ve been able to afford to put this up is because we haven’t been paying rental fees because the City of Portage has been supporting it.”

But instead of doing a tragedy to reflect the mood, the troupe is going with a more light-hearted approach with The Comedy of Errors. It’s one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays and his shortest. It’s a slap-stick comedy about two sets of identical twin boys. One pair is poor, the other rich.

“The richer family buys the two poorer twins to be playmates and eventually servants to the older two," says Poer. "And then, because of a shipwreck at sea, the twins are separated. Where the one of the rich twins and one of the poor twins end up on one side of the Mediterranean, and the other two end up of the other side of the Mediterranean. And neither know each other exist.”

In honor of what could be the last performance, the cast will wear costumes from all seven seasons of Shakespeare in the Park. Costumer Lou Irwin says it’s a way to look back at all the work they’ve done.

“I mixed Henry VII. I mixed Romeo & Juliet. I mixed Merry Wives [of Windsor]. Everything is going to be in the show from the different shows,” he says. “One of the shows, it was set in 1969 San Francisco. So our two Dromeo’s with their red T-shirts, that’s from that show. Another show was 1905 Mexico City. So how am I going to put that into that? Well, one of the gentlemen has a lace ruffle cuff and stuff like that. Well under his tunic, it all goes. So it fits.”

To play up this classic comedy, Director Brad Poer decided to add Looney Tunes-like sound effects and Three Stooges physicality. Heather Cerridwen plays Adrianna, the wife of one of the rich twins.

Cerridwen: “It should be a pretty good fun time I think—watching the different emotions and a lot of the farcical beatings that happen on stage.”

Rebecca Thiele: Beatings?

Cerridwen: “Yes. I get to kick and hit some people. And of course it’s not real so, in other words, we’re working on our timing on that. And actually one time when we were practicing I accidentally really kicked somebody, so. He said it didn’t hurt, so that’s good.”

With all the puns and mistaken identity, it’s easy to see why critics don’t take the play very seriously.

“We have to think about Shakespeare in the context that he was writing for the masses. So where if Macbeth is your art film, this is going to be Bridesmaids,” says Anne Lape.

Lape plays the role of Amelia the Abbess and has been teaching Shakespeare for about 20 years. She says the physical comedy in the play is so simple, it can make anyone laugh--even the kids.

“You could bring kids who were five or six years old and they would find as much to laugh at in this show as an adult who understands all of the jokes," she says. "And it’s in such a timeframe that nobody is going to have a chance to get restless.”

This will be the last year the troupe will host Shakespeare at Celery Flats. Volunteers just hope it won’t be the last laugh for Shakespeare in the Park.