For 28 years, Austin Shakespeare has been offering local drama fans a chance to relax on the hill in Zilker Park with picnics and spring breezes while they bring the best of the bard to life on stage.
If this year’s production, our first in Austin, was typical, we are in for an annual treat. I have been to Shakespeare in the Park in places as diverse as Harrisburg, PA., Cedar City, Utah and New York City. And I have to say this production rivals the very best I have seen in any of them.
This was no Ren Faire sideshow or community theatre production. The acting was true to the characters with original touches that gave an old story a new richness. The casting, costuming and blocking were spot on, and the lighting by Jason Amato was perfectly set to enhance both the story and the actors.
But I have to save my highest praise for the composer and the directors.
Setting a Shakespearean production to music and dance is no easy task, and is doubly difficult when you overlay another time or culture onto it. Composer Naga Valli‘s original score conveyed the energy of Bollywood mixed with the (often ribald) humor of Shakespeare’s story. And she did it seamlessly.
Directors Ann Ciccolella and Alex Alford created a production that so successfully integrated Bollywood and the Bard that one could easily believe this was the intent of the playwright from the start. As Lance said after the final scene, “Shakespeare would have approved.”
The company’s 29th season begins in late autumn, with Noel Coward’s Design for Living, followed by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Next year’s Shakespeare in the Park production will be The Winter’s Tale.
The group also offers a Shakespeare reading group, which meets weekly to read, discuss and act out all of the plays.