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The Bard goes Goth

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Shakespeare festival provides relaxing evening of theater close to home

By Robert Villanueva

Want to take a trip but don’t want to stray too far from home? Go Day-trippin’ with us as we present a new feature series. We’ll take you out of the county to places you might not have heard of otherwise, that are far enough away to feel like a mini-getaway, without the overnight stay.   By ROBERT VILLANUEVA rvillanueva@thenewsenterprise.com

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LOUISVILLE — Amid the sheltering trees, where a pergola provided a scenic breezeway and children played in an open fountain, where temperatures were expected to spike into the 100-degree range, murder is afoot.

I arrived at Central Park, located at Fourth and Magnolia streets, to watch the homicidal act.

But I know how it will end.

This is the 49th season of Shakespeare in Central Park in Louisville, and tonight’s production was “Macbeth.” Called the “oldest continually operated free Shakespeare in North America” by Producing Artistic Director Anthony Patton, the festival attracts people from all over the country.

When my girlfriend, Becca Ricks, and I arrived on a Thursday, we dreaded the predicted record temperatures and possible thunderstorms. The day turned out to be a pleasant surprise: warm and sunny but not overly humid or hot.

Part of the attraction of Shakespeare in Central Park is the setting. Nestled in a neighborhood touted as “the largest Victorian district in the United States” at the festival’s Web site, www.KYShakes.org/SICP, the park contains tennis courts, sidewalks, concessions, restrooms and C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheatre, which seats up to 1,000 audience members.

Some people took advantage of the picnic tables or even the lawn adjoining the rows of seating to unfurl a blanket, have a picnic and stretch out. We were part of that group of people.

Having stuffed ourselves at Olive Garden beforehand, we settled into a side spot close to the stage, setting down our cooler containing a snack and some drinks.

We arrived in time for the Shakespeare Spelling Bee, a pre-show event by the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival Intern Acting Company. Using three volunteers from the audience — all young girls who appear a bit stage struck — host Will Shakes and his assistant, Anne Hathawaywithwords, headed up a group that asks contestants to spell words like “cleave” and “metaphysical.”

The audience chuckled as Will interrupted the competition to do a modernistic “commercial” for a “sword-enhancement” product.

Like the volunteers in the spelling bee, two from Louisville and one from Tennessee, Patton said about every third person at each night’s performance is from out of town.

After a brief introduction by Patton, the show began.

On stage painted brown with various portals fringed in red splatter — so much like the blood that will spill throughout the play — the actors tread the boards. They are not what anyone new to the scene might expect.

Banquo wore a bandana and sneakers. Lady Macbeth sported high-heel platform boots.

This was a Goth-inspired interpretation of The Bard’s work.

Having attended productions for somewhere near 25 years, I am not surprised. I have seen a post-Apocalyptic version of this same play and another calypso-inspired production with actors on roller skates.

The last rays of daylight began to fade as the play approached intermission.

Throughout the production, Cohen McCubbin, 9, watched with interest. In fact, the audience, which ranged in age from infants to seniors, seemed engrossed in the drama.

“I find it pretty cool for some reason,” Cohen said during intermission.

The Oldham County boy’s older sister, Kendra, is part of Revels, a Shakespeare camp for children ages 12 to 14. She had seen Macbeth before.

“Now it makes a lot more sense,” she said.

Her father, J.T. said he just enjoys the historical aspect of the play, and her mother, Jenn, said they’ve been coming for four years.

“I try to tell people, ‘You gotta go,’” Jenn said.

While members of the intern acting group took up donations, yelling things like “Free Will” or “Free Willy,” audience members stretched their legs or went to the concession stand to buy snacks, drinks or T-shirts.

Kelly Will, Kelly Hewitt and Heather Rumancik shared a blanket and picnic meal nearby while watching the show. Will and Rumancik were from Louisville and Hewitt returns in the summer to Louisville from her home in Arizona.

The three went to Bellarmine University together and have been coming to Shakespeare in Central Park “on and off for eight years,” Rumancik says.

Will said she enjoyed the casual atmosphere and outdoor surroundings.

On top of that, Hewitt said, you get to “see a high quality play for free.”

The lights dimmed, and the second part of the evening performance began.

As an airplane swept by, going to or from Louisville International Airport, I stretched out underneath the blue-violet sky and watched the modernistic take on a classic play, noticing a squirrel sprinting across a lighting beam high above the stage. Nature and civilization blended here, as do the past and present.

IF YOU'RE INTERESTED It’s too late to see Kentucky Shakespeare Festival’s production of “Macbeth,” but plan to see “Romeo and Juliet” June 30-July 5 and July 7-12 and “Hamlet” July 15-19 in Central Park in Louisville. For more information about times, dates and pre-show events, visit www.KYShakes.org/SICP.

 

Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743.