Shakespeare And Stars

Even though I absolutely adore movies, there is something about seeing a live performance that is so wonderful and memorable, I’d pick “live” almost any day of the week. And when you combine a live performance with an unexpected element, I’m there.

I was recently invited to experience a First Folio Theatre performance of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” at the beautiful Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oak Brook and I couldn’t say no because the performance would be outside, under the stars.

First Folio Theatre's production of Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice"

I’m not a huge Shakespeare fan: I admit it. In high school I always read the Cliffs Notes rather than the assigned works of The Bard, because I had a hard time understanding them.

As an adult, I’ve attended a couple of productions at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier and actually enjoyed them. The trick is to pay just a smidgen more attention to the actors’ tones of voice and body language than the words themselves, at first anyway. At some point during the play, everything seems to click and–voila!–you can’t even figure out at which point you started understanding what was going on.

First Folio co-founder (and “Merchant of Venice” Director) Alison Vesely knows this about the audience, which is why the actors in First Folio productions spend lots of time at the very beginning of the process going over the script together, discussing the punctuation and rhythm of the lines, to ensure everyone understands what they’re saying. This method helps the audience in the end: I can vouch for that.

First Folio Theatre's production of Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice"

Jim and I arrived at the show and picked out our spots on the grass (you can bring a picnic blanket or lawn chairs–or rent lawn chairs for $2 each–and sit anywhere you want) and checked out the stage while we were waiting for the show to begin. The set was beautiful and I was looking forward to the sun going down, not only because it was 100 degrees outside but because I knew that the stage would be even more gorgeous after dark.

As we waited for the show to start I looked over the program and wondered to myself if Portia De Rossi’s parents named her after the main female character in “The Merchant of Venice” (they didn’t: she was born Amanda Lee Rogers and renamed herself at age 15 in order to reinvent herself but YES, she named herself after this character). I wondered if we were going to get eaten alive by bugs (we weren’t: it was too hot), if the play was going to be good (it was), if I would understand what was going on (I did), and if I was really seeing bats flying around overhead (I was).

You can read a summary of the plot anywhere, so I won’t spend time writing about that here. What I want to tell you is how much we enjoyed the experience of seeing Shakespeare under the stars. As the sun went down, the stage took on a magical, ethereal quality. The actors were fantastic, and the audience was 100% into it. The only complaint I had was about the heat (still 90 degrees after 10 p.m.!) but that wasn’t anything that the folks at First Folio Theatre could control.

Would I go see another production, even if it’s Shakespeare? Absolutely.

I guess All’s Well That Ends Well, huh? (See what I did there?)

If you’d like to catch this production, it runs every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through August 19. Gates open at 6:45 p.m. and the show begins at 8:15 p.m. Tickets are $30-$37, with discounts for students and seniors. Find more information HERE.

Disclosure: I was given two complimentary tickets to enjoy First Folio Theatre’s production of “The Merchant of Venice” with no expectation other than I check it out. Pictures used with permission from First Folio Theatre. All words and opinions are, as usual, mine!

One Comment

  • Joan

    Being an English major in college, Shakespeare was not only required, but our senior seminar course. To my delight, I loved it! To further my education, the summer after the course I went up to Stratford-Upon-Avon in Canada to see more plays and loved that too. Glad you got to see Shakespeare under the stars!

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