Shakespeare is returning to Agawam Park in Southampton Village next week with a free performance of the bard’s “Twelfth Night.”
The one-night engagement will be much more low-key than the extravagant Hamptons Shakespeare Festival that offered productions in Agawam Park and Montauk until two years ago, but that’s the way director Jason Marr wants it.
“The aim is to keep it very simple, so ultimately it is the play itself that is center stage,” the director said in a recent interview.
Mr. Marr, who also directed the Hampton Theatre Company’s recent production of “Moon Over Buffalo,” said that having minimal sets and props makes it easy for his Hip to Hip Theatre Company to take the play from venue to venue and expand Shakespeare’s reach.
He co-founded Hip to Hip with his wife, Joy, last year to bring a free Shakespeare in the Park program to his Queens neighborhood. The company performed “As You Like It” in two Queens parks.
“It was just amazing to have people in the audience who were adults but also little kids sitting around the perimeter of the stage who were just thoroughly enjoying themselves,” Mr. Marr said.
The community’s enthusiasm gave him and his wife the courage to try to expand the program and find more park venues, he said.
They decided on Agawam Park after falling in love with the area while staying with Anne Marie Carr, a Hampton Theatre Company patron who hosted the couple in Southampton during the spring productions of the last two years. Mr. Marr described his hostess as a “wonderful supporter of the arts in the Hamptons.”
Ms. Carr also pointed the couple in the direction of the Southampton Village Board, which approved the performance on Thursday, July 31, with a rain date of Saturday, August 2.
The 90-minute adaptation of “Twelfth Night” is designed to be accessible to everyone, Mr. Marr said. While many people have the impression that Shakespeare plays are for the literary class and English majors only, the reality is that the bard was writing his plays for the ordinary person, the director said.
“We want our plays to be the kind of plays that everybody can enjoy, and everybody can understand and have access to,” he said.
Mr. Marr said “Twelfth Night” will be particularly fun for everyone because it has high-jinx, sword fights and songs. “It’s probably one of Shakespeare’s most beloved romantic comedies.”
The story starts with a shipwreck. Viola, the main character, washes ashore thinking her twin brother, Sebastian, is dead. But Sebastian also survived the wreck, and he assumes his sister is dead. Alone in a pirate town, Viola poses as a man to ensure her safety. Under the name Cesario, Viola takes a job as a page for Duke Orsino. She falls in love with the duke, but the duke uses “Cesario” as his intermediary with his love, Lady Olivia. Making things even more complicated, Olivia falls in love with Viola, thinking her to be a man.
Viola also encounters a merry group of tricksters, who play several pranks during the course of the play, Mr. Marr added. “Some of Shakespeare’s silliest setups go hand-in-hand with some of his most poetic outpourings of the heart.”
It will be Mr. Marr’s first time directing the play, though he and his wife acted in it twice before. “My wife and I actually met doing ‘Twelfth Night’ back in 1996,” he said. That was at the Porthouse Theatre, outside Cleveland, Ohio. The second time was with the Ohio Shakespeare Festival, which they helped found in 2001. The Marrs spent five summers with that festival playing lead roles, but they settled in Long Island City when they decided they wanted to have a baby, Mr. Marr said.
That’s also when they decided to venture out on their own and form Hip to Hip. “The phrase ‘hip to hip’ is pulled right out of Shakespeare’s ‘Comedy of Errors’” Mr. Marr explained. The couple also chose it because it conjures the idea of collaboration, he said—collaboration among the actors, director and the playwright.
Theater is also a celebration of community, he added, expressing his hope that the performance in Agawam Park will be an excuse for everyone to get together as they once did for the Hamptons Shakespeare Festival.
Mr. Marr said that it was a shame that the festival ended, but their exit provided a golden opportunity for Hip to Hip.
While the Hamptons Shakespeare Festival had a $200,000 budget, Mr. Marr said Hip to Hip runs on a shoestring. It relies on private donations, he said, and Wickshaw Productions and Woodside On The Move have been the principal supporters.
Though they don’t even set up a platform stage—they perform right on the grass with a simple canopy—Hip to Hip will have full costumes from the Theatre Development Fund Costume Collection in New York City. The troupe also features very accomplished actors too, Mr. Marr said, and the performance has the blessing of the Actor’s Equity Association, the stage actors’ union.