THE BASICS: It’s true that due to Covid-19, Shakespeare in Delaware Park (SIDP) has not re-erected the mainstage on “Shakespeare Hill” near the Rose Garden for their traditional two summer full length plays, but as previously reported by Queenseyes, Shakespeare IS happening, it IS outdoors in the evening, and it IS free (donations gratefully accepted!). However, this year they say that in accordance with state group gathering mandates no one will be admitted without a reservation. So get thee to the internet.
“Life imitates art” they say and this summer of 2021 there is as much confusion for some as there is in the plot of Shakespeare’s 1595 play A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. As I spoke during the week with some (not so ) merry wives of Windsor and later with two (disgruntled) gentlemen of Verona, I became aware of a comedy of errors.
Confusion #1. In the play, characters are fooled by a capricious trickster named “Puck.” In real life last week many disappointed people went to sleep thinking that A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S WALK was sold out and never realized that was simply an illusion. It was much ado about nothing. As we tell our children, “don’t believe everything you read on the internet.” Tickets ARE available.
Confusion #2. In the play, there is a play within a play, in other words, two plays at the same time. This summer there are also two very different shows running somewhat concurrently. You may ask: How is this possible? One show – A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S WALK – (scenes from the play of similar name) takes place mid week, it’s always in Delaware Park, with five performances every Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday evening with staggered starts at 6:30, 7:00, 7:30, 8:00, and 8:30 (you choose a time when you sign up on line). As I write this, there are a dozen evenings left and the twelfth night is August 12.
The other show – SHAKESPEARE & LOVE – employs different actors to present various love scenes from several plays with only one 7:00 p.m. performance per evening. That show (let’s call it “LOVE”) runs on weekends (Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays) in a number of different far-flung parks around Western New York. You don’t walk, you sit, and you can take your folding chair and picnic basket, just as you have done at previous SIDP shows.
Confusion #3. Unlike years past where you just show up as you like it, this year social distancing measures for measures apply so you DO need reservations. Free reservations, but reservations none-the-less.
Confusion #4. If there’s a tempest, and “your” particular show is canceled, can you just apply your unused reservation to another night at your convenience? No, your love’s labours are lost. As King Lear says: “I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness…You owe me no subscription” And neither does Shakespeare in Delaware Park. So just tame that inner shrew and re-book. For more information including show dates, times, locations, and how to reserve your spot visit shakespeareindelawarepark.org.
Confusion #5. These are not full length plays, they are simply an assembly of scenes. It’s been way too long since the summer of 2019 with excellent productions of THE TEMPEST and LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST and so these “best of” moments will have to suffice. Again, it’s free.
To date, due to rain, I have only seen A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S WALK. The “walks” begin at the top of “Shakespeare Hill” (close to the Rose Garden and Marcy Casino) Each half hour (at 6:30, 7:00, 7:30, 8:00, and 8:30 ) a group is led by a “Puck” character played by a different actor (it’s pot luck) and as you walk about a half mile over about an acre of “Rumsey Woods” you get five scenes from the play A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. Runtime: each walk takes about 50 minutes.
For those of us in the audience, it’s a leisurely stroll. For the actors, it’s a two-and-a-half hour gym workout. Early on in the run, actors traded in their costume appropriate footwear for sneakers in order to get to their next scenes on time. “It’s all about the clock and the Excel spreadsheet” said the play’s director, Kyle LoConti, in conversation.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: The five scenes from the play A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAMS begin with the King and Queen of the Fairies, Oberon and Titania arguing. In a fit of pique, Oberon orders his “fixer” Puck to gather a flower whose juice, placed upon the eyes of a sleeping Titania, will have her fall in love with the first being she sees upon awakening.
Puck is also to touch the young lover Demetrius’s eyes so that he will realize that the girl he should be with is Helena. But Puck anoints Lysander’s eyes instead of Demetrius’s eyes, so that Lysander, happening to awake just as Helena wanders by, falls in love with her-and abandons his intended Hermia. Hoo-boy. Neither of those gals are happy about this.
Meanwhile, in the same forest three workmen (“rude mechanicals”) first plan (in one scene) and later (in another scene) rehearse a play, the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, two lovers separated by a wall. Just for the hell of it, Puck turns one the of men, Bottom, into an ass, brings him to the sleeping Titania; and, when she awakens, she falls in love with an animal.
By the end, though, Puck fixes it all, and Lysander will love Hermia and Demetrius will love Helena, and all is forgiven. Oberon, no longer angry, removes the spell from Titania’s eyes. Bottom is restored to his natural human form, and he rejoins his pals.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION OF A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S WALK: On any given night at any given time you will be led by one of the three pucks played by Linda Capeles, Dan Torres, and Phil Wackerfuss. Each has a child’s wagon with lights, boombox, and sound effects to employ during the walk. For the complete cast with photos and bios (including real life husband and wife Peter Horn and Robyn Lee Horn as Oberon and Titania) click here.
In all honesty, as many times as I’ve seen A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (most recently at Kleinhans Music Hall with music provided by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, click for that review) I’ve found keeping the four lovers straight in my mind to be a challenge, and that’s certainly the case here. And, with no mics, and no stage, coupled with all the running around, and spinning, and dodging behind shrubbery, I really couldn’t hear a lot of the dialog.
Still, no matter where I see this play, the high point is always the low comedy of the workmen rehearsing the play and that proved to be the case here. It’s pretty much impossible to “overplay” those scenes, and outdoors, without microphones, once again those scenes carried the day and were my favorite.
Of course, it is enchanting to see a play, or at least scenes, that are supposed to take place in the woods actually be in a woods. And while not quite as magical as I had hoped, the troupe gets an A for effort by adding a scene with two aerialists (think of a pared down Cirque du Soleil) hovering over a sleeping Titania. As much trust as they put into their straps and hoops the award for trust goes to Robyn Horn pretending to sleep while all this is happening six feet right over her head.
By the way, in this new contact-free era, you won’t be handed a playbill, so be sure to download a copy here.
As always, SIDP playbills are chock-full of interesting facts, games, and trivia.
Hey, the show was free, live, and in person, not on YouTube or Zoom. It got me out of the house, it employed many of my favorite actors, and it was fun to see them again. Hell, it was fun to see anybody after 15 months of social distancing, even the other people in my 25-person “pod.” So you could say that despite my hearing problems, all’s well that ends well. When you go, if you get there early or right after the show, be sure to visit the swag wagon at the top of Shakespeare Hill where Amelia Scinta, the Merchant of Venice, has a variety of tchotchkes and tee-shirts the sales of which, along with donations, will ensure that after a long winter’s tale, SIDP might be back with big productions next summer, 2022.
WHAT’S NEXT: For me I still have to pick from a variety of venues on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays into mid-August for SHAKESPEARE & LOVE with performances at 7:00 (one per evening). I did bring a lawn chair and a picnic basket to watch this slightly more traditional “stage” presentation of love scenes from the plays of Shakespeare but my chosen night was rained out. So instead of Love, I got Lear: “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout Till you have drench’d our steeples (and our picnic baskets).”
Remaining dates and venues (weather permitting) to see SHAKESPEARE & LOVE with Buffalo actors Kiana Duggan-Haas, Gabriella (Gabby) McKinley, Ricky Needham, and Dan Urtz are:
7/17 – Cazenovia Park, Buffalo
7/18 – Freedom Run Winery, Lockport
7/23 – Oxford Park, Lancaster
7/24 – Galanti Park, Lackawanna
7/25 – Academy Park, Lewiston
7/30 – Raymond Klimek Veterans Park, North Tonawanda
7/31 – Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Nature Reserve, Hamburg
8/1 – Orchard Park Gazebo, Orchard Park
8/6 – Bassett Park, Amherst
8/7 – Niawanda Park, City of Tonawanda
8/8 – Hamlin Park, East Aurora
8/13 – Golden Age Center, Grand Island
8/14 – Locust Street Neighborhood Art, Buffalo
8/15 – Parkside Lodge, Buffalo
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S WALK Rating: Three Buffalos
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!
Lead image: The three “rude mechanicals” L-R Steve Brachmann as “Flute,” Mike Garvey as “Peter Quince” (aka “Wall”), Todd Benzin as “Bottom” | Credit Peter Hall