Midsommer Flight brings Shakespeare to Chicago’s parks for seventh year


Tom McGrath, TCMcG Photography

Two actors rehearse ‘The Gentlemen of Verona.’ Midsommer Flight will perform the play in four Chicago parks through August 26.

Ruiqi Chen, Reporter

Theater company Midsommer Flight is bringing Shakespeare to Chicago parks for the seventh year with a comedy that has a slight modern day twist.

Founded by Northwestern alumna Beth Wolf (Communication ‘03) in 2012, Midsommer Flight produces “high quality, accessible performances of Shakespeare’s plays,” according to its website. To further this mission, their summer Shakespeare in the Park series is free, and their winter production follows a “pay what you can” model.

This summer, the company is producing “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” a comedy that pitches the friendship of two men against their romantic relationships with the women in their lives. However, Midsommer Flight added some modern updates to the story, written some 400 years ago.

“The play reflects standards of the time about marriage and women’s place in society,” Wolf said. “It really places this male friendship above the romantic relationship, and above the women’s happiness even.”

The original text follows the story of best friends Proteus and Valentine — the two gentlemen in the title — and the women that they love. The two fall in love with the same woman, Silvia, but she only loves Valentine. In an attempt to win her affections, Proteus assaults her.

Chad Bay, who plays Proteus, said this is where the company decided the play needed to be updated.

“In the original play, Valentine immediately forgives (Proteus). The play wraps up very quickly and ends in marriage, as all of Shakespeare’s comedies do,” Bay said. “Today we obviously view women as having much more agency and control than was maybe more common of the time.”

Wolf, who directs the play, said they didn’t want to change the text itself, but that they have shifted the focus of the story away from the male friendship and to the decisions that must be made after an assault occurs. She said she wanted Proteus to learn from his mistake.

“We are still doing what’s in the text, and there still is a pretty tense moment when (Proteus) gets a little too physical with (Silvie),” Wolf said.

In the original version, Silvie does not talk again after the assault, and her lover Valentine speaks on her behalf. However, the cast has re-assigned many lines of text to allow Silvie to actively choose whether or not she forgives Proteus rather than having her forgiveness be a given.

LaKecia Harris, who plays Proteus’s original love interest, Julia, said the changes in their script intend to shift power from the men to the women.

“Usually in the script the men just make all the decisions and the women kind of step back and shut up,” Harris said. “In this production we were like ‘no, the men shouldn’t make the decisions,’ (the women) should make the decisions because that’s who ultimately decides to forgive when it comes to stuff like that.”

Wolf added that they felt these changes were important for today’s audience, especially in light of the recent #MeToo movement. She said the play was “timely” and the company wanted to see if they could shape into a story they wanted to tell from a “very challenging script.”

This year, the play will be performed in four parks across the Chicagoland area. Currently, the company is performing in Gross Park and will be moving to Touhy Park on July 28. The final location, Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens, is a south side addition to the lineup.

Harris said she is happy to bring Shakespeare to a new neighborhood.

“Being outdoors has the chance to reach a wider audience because it’s free and because it’s in the park,” Harris said. “People are free to sit down and relax and watch it, even if they’re taking a stroll in the park and weren’t expecting to that day, they can see a free play.”

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