Shakespeare in the Park: Comic relief takes the stage

Nothing against “Hamlet” or “Macbeth” or any of William Shakespeare’s heavier, more intense dramatic works.

But when you’re lying on a soft blanket with loved ones nearby and a lovely Southern Nevada fall evening all around, there’s something to be said for cozying up to the Shakespearean equivalent of a “Three’s Company” episode.

And that’s meant as high praise. Honest it is.

Anyway, it’ll be an evening of farce, puns and sitcom-reminiscent mistaken identities when this year’s edition of the city of Henderson’s Shakespeare in the Park series brings to Southern Nevadans the Las Vegas Shakespeare Company’s production of “The Comedy of Errors.”

The comedy will be staged during the next three weekends at three Henderson outdoor venues: River Mountain Park on Saturday, Discovery Park on Oct. 12 and Lake Las Vegas on Oct. 19.

All performances will begin at 7 p.m., and the Green Show will begin at 6 p.m. Admission is free and the event is suitable for the entire family. For more information, call Henderson’s Cultural Arts and Tourism department at 702-267-2171 or visit www.HendersonLive.com.

Henderson spokeswoman Nicole Johnson notes that Shakespeare in the Park has been a staple of the city’s arts calendar for nearly three decades, making it “one of our oldest traditions.

“It actually was, for a while, at one park (with) multiple performances on one weekend,” she says. “But we decided we wanted to make it a little more accessible to residents, so we made it at neighborhood parks around their homes.”

Now, Shakespeare in the Park has become an autumnal tradition. Last year’s production of “Hamlet” drew “thousands” over the course of its run, Johnson says.

Again this year, guests likely will be wowed by the Las Vegas Shakespeare Company’s work in staging the production. In fact, Johnson even is amenable to offering a spoiler: “This year’s set design,” she says, “is incredible.”

In previous years, the Las Vegas Shakespeare Company has mounted productions of “Hamlet,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Macbeth” for Shakespeare in the Park. Michael Gill, the company’s president, said the idea is to alternate between comedies and tragedies each year.

And, Gill says, “I’m always happy when it comes to comedy.”

“The Comedy of Errors” revolves around twins who were separated at birth. The play’s humor grows out of mistaken identities and is expressed in the form of slapstick, witty dialogue, puns and even a slamming door or two.

It’s one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, Gill notes, and one that’s “really accessible for those who are sort of shy about Shakespeare’s language, in terms of getting it. I think this is one that’s really easy to get, because of the mistaken identities. It’s a lot of fun.”

But that doesn’t make it lesser Shakespeare.

“Anybody who’s serious about Shakespeare, scholars and even teachers, are going to say, ‘Teach the tragedies because the plots are more complex, the characters are more complex,’ and I don’t disagree with that,” Gill says. The tragedies “are definitely meatier, and, definitely, if you’re going to study Shakespeare, you should study the tragedies, because those are the greatest things ever written.

“But just for pure fun, we’re talking about going out to take a blanket and sit in the park and enjoy an evening with your kids and have a nice time … I enjoy the comedies. So it’s a good thing that we alternate comedies and tragedies every year.”

All of which leads to this: Shakespeare novices — or, even, outright Shakespearephobes — have nothing to fear in catching a performance of “The Comedy of Errors.”

“This one in particular is perfect for them to try. It really is,” Gill explains. “It’s one of the lighter, if not the lightest, Shakespeare comedies. Because it was one of his first plays, his wordsmithing skills weren’t as great as they were, say, in “Twelfth Night’ where there’s a lot of wordplay. What you want to get across, you see. It’s not buried deep in the words.”

So pack along your copy of Cliffs Notes if you’d like, but it’s not really necessary. In fact, at 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 12, a few hours before that evening’s performance at Discovery Park, Las Vegas Shakespeare Company cast members will participate in a free symposium at Green Valley Library, 2797 N. Green Valley Parkway, to discuss the play and the company’s production.

Gill says the production’s actors also are visiting local schools between Oct. 5 and 16 to discuss the play, the production and Shakespeare and even to perform a scene or two. That effort will culminate with valley students attending a special performance of the play at Henderson Pavilion.

Gill notes that some Shakespeare companies have done some pretty avant garde interpretations of “The Comedy of Errors.” But, he said, “we chose to stick to the original interpretation and not go too far off course.”

Showgoers seem to appreciate the efforts of Henderson and the company in bringing Shakespeare to them in such nice settings and for free, Gill says.

After a performance, “we always sort of hang around in case people want to talk to the actors, take pictures, whatever, or just say ‘Hi,’ ” he says. “People are so thankful: ‘Thank you for keeping the arts alive.’ And in a town where, for whatever reason, we seem to get bashed for not having culture, it’s great.

“We find the reaction overwhelmingly positive. People are, just, ‘Thank you so much for doing this. Parents in particular (say), ‘It’s important that my kids see this kind of work.’ ”

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@review journal.com or 702-383-0280.

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