Ohio Shakespeare Festival proves that the show must go on ‘in spite of...’


Still afraid to venture outside your home for a little bit of culture? Even with masks and social distancing many people simply do not wish to take the risk. So what to do?

Ohio Shakespeare Festival has come up with a unique answer. Three members of the company, Ryan Zarecki (actor and fight director), James Rankin and Natalie Steen spent two months of quarantine in the same home in order to be able to perform onstage unmasked but socially distanced six feet apart. Talk about suffering for your art.

The set itself was constructed by technical director Joe Pine (with mask in place) and with the help of the cast (also masked). Director Tess Burgler doubles as the stage manager. Behind the scenes it is Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield as playwrights, Kelsey Tominson doing the costume design, Marty LaConte with the props design and Jason Leupold composing an original parody melody.

During the live performances that are being held near the lagoon at Stan Hywet Hall in Akron audience members are required to wear masks when entering, during rest room breaks and when going to concessions. Seating is in groups of four in 6’ x 6’ squares spaced six feet apart. A total of 70 patrons are allowed per performance. Socializing among the squares is strictly forbidden.

This is the first live play performed since the quarantine was put into effect four long months ago. The company decided to go with one of their biggest hits (having performed it three times at their winter quarters at Greystone Hall in Akron). Thus the outdoor performance of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] (Social Distanced)” has arrived.

But this is not all...for those still not comfortable with attending the outdoor performance there is another option. You can purchase a link in order to view the live taped performance online in the comfort of your own homes throughout the weekend of August 8th and 9th, 2020...and what a show it is!

Three actors in tights are challenged to perform all 37 Shakespearean plays in 97 minutes. Early on it is pointed out that the book itself (The Complete Works of William Shakespeare) weighs in the neighborhood of six pounds so in order to complete their task in the allotted hour and a half they need to perform at the dizzying rate of 8 ounces every seven seconds (you can make this a drinking game if you wish). With this show even the tragedies are funny and the comedies even more so.

There is the "Titus Andronicus" Cooking Show, 30 second "Othello", Boy Band Pus and Song, 16 comedies rolled into one, a Quickie "Julius Caesar", an interpretive dance "Troilus and Cressida" combined with Shakespeare in the Jurassic Park, "Two Noble (Mobile) Kinsmen", a game of royal kingly football, sonnets and of course "Hamlet bacfkwards and forwards.

As can be imagined, the trio has to take on multiple roles and costuming. Ryan Zarecki stretches the boundaries in his portrayal of everyone from Cleopatra to Ophelia complete with pratfalls. With the shortage of personnel at one point he wears two costumes as he switches between Queen Gertrude and Claudius.

Natalie Steen is the self appointed “Social Distancing Police” as she reminds her fellows to maintain the required 6 feet! She also repeats the name of the show in its entirety with a short hop at the end.

James Rankin rounds out the cast playing the somewhat straitlaced preeminent Shakespearean scholar (or maybe not) and recent graduate with a Certificate Of Completion from www. premeninateshakespeareanscholars.com (or maybe not). One of his duties is to sit in an overstuffed chair with book in hand occasionally exposing it to a UV light wand.

Most of the work centers on “Romeo and Juliet” and “Hamlet” with the fight scenes acted out using large swimming pool noodles. There is even audience participation when the actors lead the willing participants through Ophelia's lines and long suffering. There are also sock puppets. There is a references to the Broadway smash “Something Rotten” as well as “Hamilton” along with some naughty humor ala “Avenue Q”. There is even a water gun fight as well as a visit from a T Rex and a quick seminar on how fake knives work.

This is an adult show so it is best to keep the little kiddies safe at home. High school and older would better appreciate it anyway.

This weekend is the final live as well as on-line performance so make up your mind which you wish to see and make your reservations. Be aware also that there is no intermission which is not a problem with the online version since you simply need to pause it.

For the live performance you will be asked to do a self check at the box office and picnicking is allowed prior to the performance. Exiting after the play is done in a staggered manner for safety and programs are digital and available on your phones.

Here is your chance to support local theater, have a safe and entertaining evening out (remember those) and catch a little culture while having a rollicking good time either at the live performance or online in the safety of your abode.

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] (Social Distanced)” runs through August 9, 2020 with both live performances at Stan Hywet Hall and online. For pre-sale only tickets and more information go to www.ohioshakespearefestival.com or phone 330-374-7574

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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