Shakespeare in the Park

Caroline Millin

You don’t have to be an English or theater major to enjoy the experience of watching a lively performance under the stars. Every year, the Elm Shakespeare Company puts on a timeless play in Edgerton Park, located near the border of Hamden and New Haven. This summer, the group delivered its performance of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” to local audiences. The company is celebrating 20 years of free outdoor performances, thanks to the popularity of their shows and the generosity of donations. Being one of Shakespeare’s comedies, the play was humorous and a lot of fun to watch.

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“Twelfth Night” is the story of twin siblings, Sebastian and Viola, who are separated after a shipwreck. Not knowing that Sebastian survived the disaster, Viola makes it to shore and masquerades as her brother to find work, inciting a tangled web of misconception, jealousy and romance.

Viola is tasked with representing her new master, Duke Orsino, as he tries to win the heart of Lady Olivia. This is complicated by the fact that Viola is in love with Orsino, and Olivia falls for Viola in her disguise as Sebastian. There is also an amusing subplot, in which several supporting characters and servants vie for the affections of each other and Lady Olivia. Eventually, however, the real Sebastian appears, causing hilarious havoc among the main characters.

In case you didn’t know, the 2006 Amanda Bynes and Channing Tatum movie “She’s The Man” was based on this play.

The set in Edgerton Park was beautifully crafted to resemble an elegant palace, complete with sculptures, balconies, fountains and a grand staircase. The lighting and sound effects, often tricky in an outdoor setting, were impressive and executed effectively throughout the play. A cool summer night, a clear sky and the picnic-like setup of the audience created a pleasant atmosphere for the performance, which featured many enthusiastic and dedicated actors. They brought this old tale to the modern stage and invited laughter from audience members of all ages.

In particular, the character of Lady Olivia’s main servant does a fantastic job bringing a complex character to life. Originally quite serious and proper, the servant is tricked into thinking that Lady Olivia loves him and wants him to act ridiculously, which he does. As this information was falsified, the servant ends up being branded as insane instead of winning his lady’s love. The actor playing this character does an excellent job transitioning from a serious man to a ridiculous one, illustrating how love can sometimes drive you to do crazy things.

“Shakespeare in the Park” is not unique to New Haven. Each year, The Public Theater performs Shakespeare in an open-air theater in Central Park, according to its website.

The Elm Shakespeare Company puts on several performances each year, starting their 2015 shows on Aug. 20 and ending on Sept. 6.

Overall, it was an entertaining, relaxing and fun experience. Though you may have missed it this year, make sure you look out for next year’s performance.