Call it serendipity, call it blind luck, call it a mystic spell that took me to some remote island, but Saturday night found my two youngest kids, Emma and Ben, and me at White River State Park to see Heartland Actors' Repertory Theatre (HART) showing of The Tempest.
Every year, HART puts on Shakespeare on the Canal, one Shakespearean play every summer as part of their season. They've done it every year since 2008, when they put on The Merchant of Venice. They've also done Much Ado About Nothing, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Othello, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Taming of the Shrew. Shakespeare On The Canal always draws a big crowd. It was serendipitous because I knew that there was a play in the park, but I didn't know when it was. I did a Google search on Tuesday and saw the play was this week only. I found out as we were leaving that there's only one play per year, and I just happened to catch it on the exact right week.
In The Tempest, it has been 12 years since Prospero, the Duke of Milan, and his daughter Miranda were stranded on an island after Prospero's brother, Antonio, and the King of Naples deposed him and set him adrift. Prospero has a slave, a deformed green monster named Caliban, and a magical servant/sprite named Ariel, who have helped him survive over the last 12 years.
Propspero divines (magically learns) that his brother and the King are on a ship passing near the island, so he raises a tempest to cause the ship to run aground so he can effect his revenge. Also on the ship are the King's sons, Sebastian and Ferdinand, Trinculo the fool, and Stephano the drunken butler.
The story takes place in three separate plots, with three groups, each believing the others are dead.
Prospero and Miranda meet Ferdinand, the King's younger son, and the two young people fall in love and want to get married. After three hours. Apparently the shorter lifespans in Shakespeare's day meant people had the life expectancy and love life of a fruit fly.
Meanwhile, the Alonso the King, Antonio the usurper, Sebastian, and Gonzalo the Duke's advisor, are traipsing around the island. When Ariel causes Alonso and Gonzalo to fall asleep, Antonio and Sebastian make plans to kill the two men so Sebastian could become the new King, and reward the Duke. Ariel wakes them up just in time, and the two would-be assassins pretend to have heard a sound, and so were "protecting" their friends in case of attack.
Finally, Caliban meets up with Trinculo the jester and Stephano the drunken butler. Stephano survived by clinging to "a butt of sack" (a wooden cask of sherry, which holds about 126 gallons), and riding it to the island. He fashioned a bottle with bark, and managed to stay drunk — and get Trinculo and Caliban drunk — throughout the entire play.
The three groups finally meet up at the end, and everyone is pleased to see each other alive. Ferdinand and Miranda are to be wed, Prospero forgives his usurping brother and king,
Old Man Winters is unmasked as the phantom, Prospero also warns Sebastian and Alonso against further deception. He then asks Ariel to create ideal sailing weather, so they can all return to Naples where everyone will live happily ever after, and Sebastian and Alonso will promise to never ever try to murder anyone ever again, pinky swear.
One thing I always appreciate about a Shakespearean play is when American actors play it American, rather than the high-English dramatic acting. In fact, it's now believed that Shakespearean language was more plain, and less like John Gielgud or Laurence Olivier. And HART didn't try to English it up, playing it more like an American production, which made it easier to understand and follow. They also interacted with the audience and made a few references to what was happening around us.
Chris Hatch's Trinculo was the best of the bunch, even breaking the fourth wall once or twice. Nearby, we could hear an Indy Eleven soccer game going on, which Trinculo mentioned.
Here's neither bush nor shrub, to bear off any weather at all, and another storm brewing; I hear it sing i' the wind: it sounds like a soccer game
After being told by Stephano to stand farther off, Trinculo wandered into the audience and sat with some audience members. When called for by Stephano — Lead, monster; we'll follow — Trinculo protests, because his new friends had given him beer.
"Then bring it, and we shall share."
Shakespeare On The Canal is always a big draw for the people of central Indiana, and the White River State Park does everything they can to make visitors' experience simple and enjoyable. You can bring your own picnic and haul your own lawn chairs, but they also have food trucks, Sun King Brewery, and Rettig Hill Winery, plus free lawn chairs, in case you don't want to haul your own stuff.
We also managed to catch a ride on a golf cart with Alex, who wears many hats at the Park, including running their Twitter account, @WhiteRiverStPrk. (Follow them for announcements and updates.) Alex said they do what they can to lighten everyone's load so they can more fully enjoy their time at the park, as well as their free summer concert series.
It was such a near-miss in getting to the play this year that I've already put it on my calendar and my ToDoist app to find the next Shakespeare On The Canal production for 2015 and make plans to be there.
If you're in the mood for more outdoor theatre, there's also Garfield Park's Garfield Shakespeare Company (although this year, they're doing the musical Camelot).
Photo credit: Erik Deckers