Summer is here, and it’s time to get out of the house and smell that delicious Pittsburgh air! Whether or not that sounds appealing to you, Shakespeare in the park definitely should. You get all the fun of a theatrical experience, but you can take your shoes off and eat Swedish Fish while you’re watching it! What’s not to love?
Steel City Shakespeare is undertaking one of my personal favorites of the Bard’s- The Tempest. Something we can all relate to here after the weather this past week. They set their stage in the Troy Hill Citizen’s Park, but no worries! If a literal tempest comes along, they have the church across the street as a backup location. And Shakespeare in the church would also be pretty cool, right?
Even though I love this play, Shakespeare can sometimes get a bit dull after seeing the same show throughout the years. Luckily, SCS has provided its audience with a fun twist for this production. The play has over twenty characters, but director Jeffrey Chips is presenting fifteen of them portrayed by only five actors. Slight costume changes signal the transition from one character to another, which works sometimes well and sometimes hilariously as a few characters jump between personas within the same scene. This was generally successful, especially for the most obvious change: the charismatic Sandee L. Rollins’ transition from magic-dealing Prospera to that character’s own brother, Antonio. The only times characters were kind of jumbled were when smaller characters switched around quickly. Much kudos to the actors of this show, who not only memorized the lines of multiple characters but could also keep them straight and change bits of wardrobe and set at the same time.
My personal favorite of the dual characterization was Miranda and Ariel, both played by Anne Rematt. In a brilliant move on Chips’ part, Miranda seems to sleep or “disappear” every time Ariel pops up, giving the impression that Ariel is a spirit dwelling inside Miranda, only coming out when her mother Prospera needs help with trickery. Rollins and Rematt have a wonderful chemistry on stage, both as mother and daughter and as master and servant. The shift in their relationship as Rematt’s characters changed was obvious but natural.
I’d also be remiss not to mention that fan favorite trio of Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano. These characters make up the drunken fools of the show and were brought to life comically by David Loehr, Paige Borak, and Ryan Bergman respectively. Each of them also had several other characters to take on. Bergman stood out especially, switching from climbing trees and playing an accordion as an inebriated Stephano to mourning his presumed dead son while enduring a strange and frightening land as the solemn Alonso.
The magic of the storm and the island were worked about as well as could be on a very sunny day in a park in the city. Everyone watching is expected to use their imaginations to create the scenery not provided. There were a few instruments used, and some practical sound effects, but for the most part, the acting seems to be what Chips meant to highlight in this production. It was incredibly reminiscent of a traveling theatre troupe. The costume pieces and props not in use sat just off the side of the playing area, and the actors not in a scene did as well. Having everything exposed and obvious as part of the craft of theatre was a fun aspect that is not often seen. And it absolutely made viewers feel more connected with the art, somehow involved with the things normally only found behind black curtains.
Of course the script was cut down in some places; the entire performance, including a small intermission, lasted only about two hours. This was a welcome change, as sitting in the humidity could have been exhausting if the entire show had been performed. Thankfully, they housed the audience in shade, making the heat easier to bear and taking the sun out of our eyes. All the actors were easy to hear, despite the occasional children playing in a backyard or camera shutter clicking behind the spectators.
Steel City Shakespeare is suggesting a $15 donation to come see the show, and they sell some snacks and drinks there as well. The area offers plenty of free street parking, and the area itself is easy to find, even for someone like me who had never been to Troy Hill before. If you’ve never been to a performance in an outdoor setting, it’s really something you should experience. And if you have, you know how new and special it feels every time. SCS only has two more performances left of The Tempest, and I highly recommend getting out to one!
The Tempest runs two more times June 24 and 25 in the Troy Hill Citizens Park! For more information click here.
Photos courtesy of Ringa Sunn!