Shakespeare is Free (and fun) in South Park

20 Sep

September finds Shakespeare in South Park. Two years ago, the Bard of Avon was at the Gazebo with Much Ado About Nothing. Last year, he was in the South Park Green, with A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Fairies, Athenians and an enthusiastic crowd enjoyed the late summer weather in South Park Green, a cozy hillside park with an impressive vista of the Dayton skyline at dusk. 

The delightful romantic comedy of mismatched lovers, enchanted forests and Puck, the famously mischievous sprite, played out against the natural background of lush trees strung with twinkling lights at sunset, a perfect stage for the magic-comic misadventures of the king and queen of the fairies, human lovers and bumbling rustic folk.

First-time play producers Phyllis Tonne and Galen Wilson couldn’t believe their good fortune in director, cast and crew. And of the 22 players, 11 were from our own neighborhood of South Park. Director Daniel Wilson, a resident of Riverside, is an experienced director and founder of Wichita’s Shakespeare in the Park program. His wife Jennifer Wilson, a military professional working at Wright Patterson Airforce Base, is also an actress and costume designer of long experience. Two alums of Dayton’s renowned Muse Machine, Michael Wadam and Natalie Houliston brought talent and leadership to the troupe, which was a healthy mix of accomplished and neophyte actors.

The University of Dayton contributed some of its alumnae to the cast, including Paul Browning, now working at the Airforce Base and Alexandra  of The Kettering Foundation. Chris Rowley, ex-military currently at Woolpert took the stage for the first time since seventh grade. He is now a professional actor! Hopefully, Chris will attribute any future fame to his debut as Bottom!

Shakespeare requires men and in the need to cast more of them, the producers walked through the neighborhood in search of good-looking fellows of a certain age, just like talent scouts of old. They found Nick Moye, who turned out to be something of a natural. The South Park neighborhood offered up another crucial talent, the all-important stage manager, in the form of Elizabeth Blackwell, a Wright State theatre graduate. Alex Pitcairn joined the cast having recently graduated from the University of Cincinnati theatre program.

Rounding out the stage with young people were Kaitlyn Paeg, 15, of Trotwood and Lydia Diabate-Tonne, a fifth grader at Valley Forge in Huber Heights. The troupe was in high spirits and rose to the play’s challenge, giving a lively engaging performance. “Dream” includes a lot of physicality, fighting, chases and dances as well as delicate moments and broad humor, even a song or two. It was great family fare. Audiences brought blankets and lawn chairs. The Friday, Saturday and Sunday performances were free but donations were accepted to defray the play’s production costs. South Park thanks Hope Lutheran Church for generously providing their rehearsal space.

“There is a surprisingly strong affinity for the work of William Shakespeare that has drawn us together again this year, and has us looking forward to the next,” says Tonne. Indeed, the Bard of Avon seems to have found a home in South Park.