Cape Fear Shakespeare’s annual Shakespeare on the Green is celebrating 27 years of live, outdoor dramas at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. Fifteen of them also has included higlighting its youth company. They’re shaking up 2019 with multitudes of themes and tropes, literary enlightenment and hilarity coming to life across many Shakespearean stories. Zeb Mims will direct “Love’s Labour’s Lost” for the adult company, while founder Cherri McKay will guide Shakespeare Youth Company in her original “Shakespeare on a Midsummer’s Eve.” The show blends some of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Comedy of Errors,” “Macbeth” and “The Tempest.”
“The condensed version [of each story] allowed me to devote more time to work with smaller groups and individuals,” McKay explains of her 17-member cast who will play 47—yes, 47—different characters. The youngest actor is 7 and the oldest, 19. “Each has a set of storytellers and select scenes that come to life throughout the play,” she explains. The main players from each story all appear.
“I wrote the dialogue for the storytellers in a contemporary English style, briefly highlighting the most important details of the play,” McKay continues. “All the scenes performed are Shakespeare’s words.”
One of the elements McKay loves teaching a younger audience is how the Bard is responsible for a majority of our language. Common expressions run aplenty that the audience will learn about, too.
“As part of the performance our fools [present] ‘Did You Know?’—for example, ‘Did you know when saying ‘Jove! O Lord! Tut! Tut! For goodness sake! What the dickens,’ you are quoting Shakespeare?’”
The romantic comedy of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” takes on the love language of poetry—no surprise, seeing as the Bard wrote more than 100 sonnets in his lifetime. The last time Mims had a hand in “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” he was attending UNCW.
“We took the Kenneth Branaugh route and added songs to create a musical,” Mims says. “I was the music director and the drummer for the band.”
This time around he’s playing double duty again, from overseeing the production as director and also taking on the role of Costard. The cast is rounded out by Ben Hart as King Ferdinand, Jason Corder as Berowne, Jack Cannon as Longaville and Jeremy Weir as Dumain. The women they fall for include Savannah Dougherty as Rosaline, Gracie Cole as Maria, Amber Heck as Katherine and Bailey Watkins as the French Princess.
“This show has nearly as many main characters as ‘Game of Thrones,’” Mims quips. “It has more poems performed onstage than any other Shakespearean play I can think of, and not a scene goes by without someone feeling compelled to give a ridiculous pun.”
Though written five centuries ago, the prevalent, unending “battle of the sexes” drives most of its comedy. Mims references the male characters’ extreme masculine bravado as being outshone by feminine wit.
“We’ve done our best to highlight these moments, where pompous men have the legs knocked out from underneath them,” Mims says.
Though the set design is very stripped down, and he has costumer Amber Heck dressing characters in “Elizabethan-meets-70’s-meets-last-week” garb, Mims isn’t really moving the story into a modern-day setting. In fact, he thinks it’s opposite of anything modern audiences would do in the throes of love.
“Characters send letters back and forth via courier,” he details. “Things get lost or sent to the wrong person. So many of what happens to these characters are things the modern young lover will likely never have to deal with—like being caught in the act of disguising yourself as a Russian Noble to get a girl to dance with you. [Watching this play provides] the same sort of thrill we get from watching fantasy or historical drama: We get to live vicariously through lives we cannot have for ourselves.”
His favorite scene is toward the end when the entire cast is onstage. Then the story becomes an over-the-top trainwreck of sorts. It shines a light on Shakespeare’s wonderful arming of the pen.
“Poems and jokes and bouts of wit take center stage in every scene,” Mims praises. “There is still a hilarious and compelling story, but it’s told in a way that’s far more literary than we’re used to seeing onstage. It’s been an adventure trying to present all of this clearly in a setting where the audience is far away and planes fly overhead. Outdoor theatre is an adventure in the best of times, even more so when you’re dealing in wordplay.”
With the help of technical director Ben Cornett, stage manager/company dramaturge Ev Smith, and Cape Fear Shakespeare members and their families, both “Shakespeare on a Midsummer’s Eve” and “Love’s Labour’s Lost” opens this week. It’s a free community event, which welcomes families to the amphitheater, picnics in hand, throughout the entire month of June.
“My hope is both our companies will continue to entertain, educate, mentor, bring awareness, and exposure to William Shakespeare—one of the greatest playwrights that ever lived—to as many people as possible,” McKay says.