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As festival debuts, all the park's a stage

A well-attended "Midsummer" performance kicks off an event where, today, sword fights and Renaissance characters will entertain in Sims Park.

Published February 19, 2006

More than 200 people sprawled on blankets or sat in lawn chairs to watch the opening night of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the first Shakespeare by the River festival in New Port Richey.

The larger-than-expected Friday evening audience in Sims Park surprised and delighted the organizers of the festival, which continues through 8:30 p.m. today in the park, the New Port Richey Library and Peace Hall (see schedule).

Events kicked off at 6 p.m. in Peace Hall with a comic song written by the festival's prime mover, Charlie Skelton, who is also board president of co-sponsor Richey Suncoast Theatre. That was followed by a talk on Shakespeare's time by actor/director Diana Forgione and a concert of ethereal guitar music by David Eichenberg, who shared some Shakespeare thoughts of his own.

The big event of the evening, though, was Midsummer, which has its final performance at 6:30 p.m. today in Sims Park. Though the costumes are an eclectic mix of 1930s mink stoles, timeless tuxedoes, wispy fairy outfits and an Oberon (Corey Lista) dressed like a tattooed Sting in full-length black leather coat and pants, the words are pure Shakespeare.

And those words were trippingly on the tongues of several of the players, particularly the fetching Meghan Grey as the lovelorn Helena and the scene-stealing Adam Ceccofiglio, who creates an unforgetable Bottom, star of the play-within-the-play. Egad, what talent this young man has.

Those in the audience who chilled out - as in "got cold and left the park at intermission" - missed the best scenes of the night, including a couple that would have surprised the Bard himself.

Director Austin Helms cleverly modernized some scenes - as when the four confused lovers wake from their deep slumbers with their heads on straight but their clothes . . . well, go see for yourself - and also sliced the play from more than three hours to just about two, including a 15-minute intermission, while deftly leaving in enough to tell all four of the show's love stories and retain some of a young Shakespeare's most beautiful poetry.

The stable love is Duke Theseus (Drew Lundquist) and Queen Hippolyta (Leanne Germann); the unstable between and among Hermia (played with a mix of camp and vamp by Heather Moats), Demetrius (Nick Boucher in evening jacket and Sinatra-like satin scarf), Lysander (an animated Peter Porebski) and Helena; and the semi-dysfunctional one between Oberon (played macho by Lista) and Titania (played flightily by Andrea Caddell).

The fun bunch, though, are Quince's (Meaghan Jameson) players, who do a send-up of Pyramus and Thisby for the newlyweds near the end of the play: the thoroughly charming Bottom, the "female" lead Flute (played in comical falsetto by long, tall Sean Powers), Snug (a Shakespearean Cowardly Lion well done by Bill D'Addio), the hilarious Snout (Jim Poe, who does a terrific "wall") and the tailor-turned-moon Starveling (Jazmina Poling). That's a scene to be savored over and over.

It's all stirred and mixed by a strangely restrained Taylor Trensch as the mischief-making Puck.

Director Helms ostensibly set the play on a 1930s movie set, but, beyond some costumes and the jarring appearance of a 21st-century golf cart, there is little reference to time. Shakespeare purists may have preferred a straight rendering, especially for a first-time effort, but the modern touches detract little from the story and add a bit more whimsy to an already whimsical play.

Still, we could do without set changes during Helena's lovely soliloquy and especially without unruly and unsupervised children in the audience who endanger themselves and the flow of the play as they scream and romp around the park, at one point shutting off the lights and sound systems when they pulled the plug in the middle of a key scene on opening night.

We know Shakespeare's audiences were sometimes loud and coarse, but we mods would be just as happy without that particular touch of authenticity.

Weather forecasts show mild temperatures for today, but those planning to see the play should take warm wraps, as temperatures can drop suddenly once the sun goes down. Those at Friday's show in shorts and flip-flops were shivering by the time the second act started at 9 p.m. One person who seemed comfortable (me) layered thermal underwear, ski pants and a heavy pullover as the night grew progressively cooler. The hot coffee and cocoa stands made a killing off those less sartorially prepared.

Today's events start at noon in the park and include songs and excerpts from Midsummer, a tightly choreographed demonstration of a sword fight, Renaissance re-enactors from the Society for Creative Anachronism Inc. and several food and beverage booths (I can vouch for the large North Carolina barbecue sandwiches and homemade slaw for $4) in Sims Park and, four or five blocks east, a funny movie at the library, culminating back in the park with Midsummer itself at 6:30 p.m.


NOON-4 P.M.: Society for Creative Anachronism Inc. village and characters in Sims Park.

1 P.M.: The Thespians of River Ridge perform musical numbers in Peace Hall.

1:30 P.M.: Sword Fight! with Jonathan Tietz and Peter Porebski in Sims Park.

2-3 P.M.: The Mitchell High School Players do excerpts from their musical version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, set in the 1960s, in Sims Park.

3-4 P.M.: Carmine Bell leads a presentation of Shakespeare's sonnets in Peace Hall.

4:30-6:10 P.M.: The Reduced Shakespeare Company's film, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), which compresses 37 of Shakespeare's plays into less than two hours, at the New Port Richey Library.

6:30-8:30 P.M.: A Midsummer Night's Dream in Sims Park.

[Last modified February 19, 2006, 01:08:19]

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