Shakespeare in the Parks
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre players perform in The Taming of the Shrew at South Shore Cultural Center on July 29, 2012.

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre has a reputation for high-quality productions, but those performances rarely venture outside of Navy Pier, where the company is located. Not so with this summer’s staging of The Taming of the Shrew, adapted and directed by Rachel Rockwell. As the inaugural show of the theatre’s new partnership with the Chicago Park District, Shrew is scheduled to set up shop in various parts of the city. Here are six reasons to grab your lawnchairs and head to the parks this summer:

Shrew’s simplified, but not simplistic: Shakespeare’s not known for easy narratives. (In case you're not familiar with the Bard's plays, The Taming of the Shrew centers on two sisters, Katherina and Bianca. When their father pronounces that Bianca cannot marry until after her older sister does, Bianca's suitors convince a young, conceited bachelor, Petruchio, to wed the brash Kate. And the newlyweds find "taming" each other's worst characteristics to be a more daunting challenge than they ever expected.) In its original version, there are so many subplots and diversions that the Kate/Petruchio romance can be overpowered. “They can almost seem like secondary players in their own show,” Rockwell said. So for this adaptation, Rockwell “streamlined” the play to focus on the primary couple.

It’sfunny, not tragic: Staging Shrew requires an immediate decision: play up the misogynistic elements to serve as social commentary, or focus on the humor. Rockwell said she finds the former interpretation depressing, so she’s created a “joyful” adaptation, with the play’s darker moments merely suggesting both Kate and Petruchio are still learning how to properly co-exist and compromise.

The play rocks: While the production may feature a classical Elizabethan set and costumes, Rockwell tapped composer Kevin O’Donnell to write an incidental rock score. It’s a smart exercise in juxtaposition—O’Donnell’s score even features period-appropriate lutes among guitars and drums—designed to help younger audiences connect better with the play. As she put it, “They may not understand all the words, but they’re certainly going to understand the emotion of that song.”

It’s right on your doorstep: When selecting places to take the show, Rockwell said, the primary consideration was what areas of the city are “underserved” by the arts scene. The parks chosen offer the city’s families an opportunity to experience Shakespeare without having to trek downtown. “If they want to get in the wagon with the kids,” Rockwell said, “[the play’s] right there for them.”

You haven’t seen Shakespeare until you’ve seen it outdoors: Staging Shrew outdoors in the middle of summer makes for some unique challenges (for example: the 40-pound wedding dress that might have melted lead actress Ericka Ratcliff on the spot had to be quickly replaced). But Rockwell said the benefits of performing outside—as done in the Elizabethan period—outweigh the disadvantages. “The other day, we were doing it out by the lake at sunset, and it was just so beautiful.”

Time’s running out: While the company has scheduled performances at 11 different city parks, it’s blowing through them quickly: only nine shows at five parks remain. The remaining locations are Gateway Park at Navy Pier, Welles Park in Lincoln Square, Garfield Park Conservatory, Ridge Park on the South Side, and Frank J. Wilson Park in Jefferson Park. For specific times and more info, click here.


Photograph: Michael Litchfield