Dare to

Dare to: Sample Shakespeare and Fringe Fest

Updated: 2013-05-20T15:32:04Z

By ROBERT TRUSSELL

The Kansas City Star

Let’s say you’re a conservative theatergoer — someone who enjoys, say, 147-year-old musicals or British sex farces (whose popularity peaked during the Boer War).

As such, you probably distrust any of that newfangled entertainment that came after the Gilded Age.

Better yet, let’s say that live plays, even those from antiquity, are too much for you. You might be one of those people who never darkens the door of a playhouse because you think a theater is where you go to see movies.

Allow me to humbly suggest that it may be time to broaden your horizons. And this summer you’ll have some horizon-expanding options.

First, consider the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival. This year’s show, “As You Like It,” which runs June 18-July 7, was first staged 410 years ago.

That’s good news for anyone uncomfortable with radical new concepts. The bad news, assuming you have never seen a Shakespeare play and successfully blocked all memories of being required to read “Macbeth” in high school, is that you probably won’t understand anything happening.

My suggestion: Just relax. This play, set in the magical Forest of Arden, is classified as a comedy. Remember that. And be assured that the actors (some of the best in Kansas City) will help you out.

The festival budget doesn’t allow for an applause sign like you might see in a TV studio, but the actors will communicate through bold gestures and emphatic hand movements exactly when they are being funny. Another key could be prerecorded music, which may tip you off with goofy themes.

Really, all you need to know is that the heroine, Rosalind, flees the oppressive Duke and with her cousin Celia takes refuge in the forest. Rosalind disguises herself as a man tending sheep, and Celia assumes the appearance of an old lady. This is Shakespeare, so the disguises fool only the other characters on stage but absolutely nobody in the audience, so don’t get confused.

You might find yourself wondering what the play says about gender issues, but if you really need to know there’s a thing called the Internet where you can consult cliffnotes.com, sparknotes.com or any of the Shakespeare blogs, which for all I know could number in the hundreds, if not thousands.

But then, homework is really antithetical to having a good time, isn’t it? Look, Southmoreland Park is a nice place to spend a summer evening, assuming the city isn’t in the grip of a heat wave. So stretch out on a blanket, have a bite to eat, help yourself to some chilled wine and gawk at other theatergoers, at least until it gets dark. Just watch the show. If you understand every fifth line, you’re doing well.

Now the family-friendly Shakespeare fest might seem a little tame, even if the dialogue is indecipherable. So 11 days after “As You Like It” wraps up, the annual KC Fringe Festival kicks in.

Fringe Fest offers 10 days of alternative performances. You can see new plays that may or may not have a future beyond the festival, you can hear music that may or may not be unmarketable and you can see solo performances that can only be seen at fringe festivals.

The lineup hasn’t been announced for this year’s edition, which runs July 18-28 at venues in the Crossroads and midtown. But in recent years I’ve seen R-rated sex farces, plays about German sex dolls, an incarnation of the Marx Brothers, a solo re-enactment of “The Seven Samurai,” a musical about growing up in Kansas, a musical based on “The Canterbury Tales,” seminaked burlesque dancers, a spoof of 1950s Hollywood soap operas, clown shows, stunt shows consisting of nothing but sword fights, original plays based on Greek and Roman mythology, original plays by KC theater artists known principally as actors or directors … and so much more.

The thing to remember about the Fringe Festival is that more stuff is programmed than one person could possibly see. So once you buy your festival button and grab a schedule, you have to sit down and figure out what might appeal to you.

A dedicated fringer might be able to see four or five shows in a day. But know that it’s basically a crapshoot. You could see something really good. Or you might find yourself fighting the urge to flee the theater. Either way, what you see will be anything but business as usual.

To reach Robert Trussell, theater critic, call 816-234-4765 or email rtrussell@kcstar.com.

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