A&E Pick of the Week

Welcome back to Arts & Entertainment Pick of the Week, in which our writers share some particularly interesting events, shows or something else that caught their eye.

As a new mom of a toddler, I’ve found I’m short on two important things: time to read and babysitters. Enter: Shakespeare in the park. 

My toddler loves being outdoors, and it’s basically free babysitting to let them roam free in a toddler-safe park. So, with Shakespeare in the park, I get to watch some grown-up play pretend while my kid gets to toddle around in the grass and daydream about whatever toddlers daydream about. 

This year’s outdoor Shakespeare productions from GreenStage and Seattle Shakespeare Company’s Wooden O seem to have a common theme in mind: laughter. After the year and a half we’ve all had, both companies clearly realize we need a little laughter to forget about things for a while. In fact, Seattle Shakes even said as much. 

“Great talent, a box, a rack, and a great play that hopefully will help you forget for a little while.” That’s how Seattle Shakespeare Company introduced its July 25 outdoor performance at Seattle Center. 

I recommend we all take advantage of the chance to do exactly that while the weather is still warm and the vaccines are still effective. Laughing to some of Shakespeare’s best comedies while basking in the sun was a wonderful weekend distraction for the toddler and me. There are a few Shakespeare in the park options around the Puget Sound area, and we checked out two of them. Here’s how it all shakes (ba dum!) out. 

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GreenStage’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Amelia Meckler performs in GreenStage’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on July 25 at Magnuson Park Amphitheater. The production continues through Aug. 14 at area parks. (Sylvia Jarrus / The Seattle Times)

The play: This year, GreenStage is putting on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as well as abridged back-to-back performances of “Twelfth Night” and “The Tempest” at various parks around the Puget Sound area. I caught their performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Lincoln Park. What better way to forget about the very real problems of the world than to dive into a story where the problem is love? When a fairy king and queen have a tiff, naturally the fallout involves magical love-bestowing flowers, some love triangle mis-matchmaking and … a donkey? It’s the perfect recipe for hilarious chaos and a fun antidote to the much-less-funny chaos of the past year. 

The strengths: The musicians were a hit. The toddler found the guitar-playing narrator to be the most attention-grabbing aspect of the play and applauded vigorously for him. I rather enjoyed the brief but wonderful appearance of the harpist with an enchanting voice and was disappointed not to hear more from her. Unfortunately, I can’t speak to much of the rest of the play because the toddler decided to wander off to play with rocks on the nearby trail well out of earshot of the play, and in order to not win “Worst Mom of the Year,” clearly I had to follow.

The toddler’s take: Shakespeare “rocks.” (Toddlerese translation from a friend.) 

Recommendations: Skip the lawn chair. Bring a blanket instead so you can nab a spot near the stage for optimal viewing and hearing.

COVID-19 safety: It’s all outdoors, but GreenStage is “following all state mandated and CDC recommended COVID guidelines.” So keep an eye on the CDC and local recommendations. 

By William Shakespeare, produced by GreenStage. Through Aug. 14; free, donations accepted; various locations and dates, see schedule (for both “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as well as “Twelfth Night” and “The Tempest”) at greenstage.org.

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Seattle Shakespeare Company/Wooden O’s “The Comedy of Errors”

Rico Lastrapes, Kelly Karcher, MJ Daly, Katt Witt and R. Hamilton Wright (from left) in Seattle Shakespeare Company/Wooden O’s production of “The Comedy of Errors.” The five actors portrayed all of the characters, with some switching roles mid-scene. (John Ulman)

The play: What happens when two sets of identical twins separated in infancy end up in the same city? Well, it’s Shakespeare, so naturally a great deal of confusion, flagrant misunderstandings, a lovers quarrel, and, of course, everyone thinks everyone else has gone “mad.” “The Comedy of Errors” is one of Shakespeare’s most easygoing and hilarious plays. It’s easy on the nerves because the audience is in on the joke from the beginning, but there’s still plenty of raucous drama to keep you on your toes. It’s a perfect choice for letting loose and getting in some laughs this summer. 

The strengths: The cast is ridiculously talented (Rico Lastrapes as Dromio is definitely one to watch), reinforced by the fact that there are only five actors portraying all 16 characters in the play. At times an actor is playing two characters in the same scene or all of the actors take turns playing the same character. 

The cast not only makes this challenge look easy, but they have fun doing it, at times making (sometimes scripted and sometimes not) errors of their own. This all works to bring the audience in on the joke as they watch, for example, the harried cast rushing around the stage exchanging feathered boas for wooden crosses to play, first, a prostitute, then a priest. 

It’s a perfect device for a play about doppelgänger high jinks, and the cast pulls it off brilliantly.  

The toddler’s take: Strongly recommend running in circles around the audience to capture the whoooole experience. If you don’t understand why the audience is clapping, just go along with it. 

Recommendations: Get there early for the best “seats.” The Seattle Center performance was packed full. 

COVID-19 safety: Seattle Shakespeare Company/Wooden O is following the protocols set by the state for outdoor gatherings. A “Dos and Don’ts of Attending Wooden O” guide is available on its website. They will also have masks and hand sanitizer on-site.

By William Shakespeare, produced by Seattle Shakespeare Company/Wooden O. Through Aug. 8; free, donations accepted; various locations and dates, see schedule online: seattleshakespeare.org/woodeno

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