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Shakespeare double feature planned for Agawam Park

Publication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press
By Brendan O'Reilly   Aug 11, 2009 12:21 PM

The Hip to Hip Theatre Company is returning next week to Agawam Park to put on not just one free Shakespeare play, but two.

The Queens-based troupe, led by Jason Marr of Long Island City, performed the bard’s “Twelfth Night” at the Southampton Village park last summer for a one-night-only event, and next Thursday evening, August 20, Hip to Hip will put on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Romeo and Juliet” in a one-evening repertory—one after the other—with a short break in between for the audience members to have a picnic dinner in the park.

“It’s going to be spectacular, and it’s going to be a real treat for the village to get a chance to see these two plays back-to-back,” said Mr. Marr, Hip to Hip’s president and artistic director. “We chose these plays specifically, because they complement each other so beautifully.”

There is evidence that Shakespeare worked on the plays at the same time, he said, and both feature a pair of star-crossed lovers.

The more well-known pair is Romeo and Juliet. The second is Pyramus and Thisbe, the comical subjects of the play within a play, “The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe,” performed in the middle of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Mr. Marr said the evening will begin with the comic treatment of the star-crossed lovers story and end with the tragic treatment, “Romeo and Juliet.”

Hip to Hip is putting on free performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in parks across Queens, from Socrates Sculpture Park in Long island City to Fort Totten Park in Bayside, from August 12 to 16. Then, from August 19 to 23, the company will revisit the parks to perform “Romeo and Juliet.”

Since Southampton is a long haul for the cast, the village will get both plays in one evening.

There are 12 actors in the theater company, and each has at least one part in both plays. “Among them they will play upwards of 40 parts, because there’s a lot of double casting in the plays,” Mr. Marr said.

They’ve been practicing at a rented studio in Manhattan, the borough where most of the cast lives.

Mr. Marr played a couple parts in “Twelfth Night” himself last year, but this year he is strictly directing and producing.

He said a by-product of Hip to Hip’s growth—from one play a year to two and adding more performance venues to its schedule—is that it doesn’t leave him the time to pick up a part. He also began teaching this year at Marymount Manhattan College and he directed “As You Like It” earlier this summer at the Ohio Shakespeare Festival, which he and his wife, Joy Marr, helped to found in 2001.

As was the case with “Twelfth Night,” which Ms. Marr starred in at Agawam Park last year, the upcoming plays will be shortened to 90-minute adaptations.

“We’ve cut the script a little,” Mr. Marr said. “None of the scenes are altered; all of the characters are still there. So you’re definitely getting the full production, but you’re getting it in 90 minutes.”

Short plays are more appropriate for an outdoor venue and in keeping with putting on a light entertainment, he said, adding, “It’s great fun for the whole family.”

He pointed out that abridged versions of Shakespeare plays have been around for centuries.

“Even back in the 18th century, there were theater troupes who took Shakespeare’s stories, plays, and altered them to suit what they wanted to do with the company,” he said.

What he wants, is for theatergoers to pack a picnic and pray for good weather.

There is a backup plan, though. Kirsten Lonnie, executive director of the Southampton Cultural Center across the street from Agawam Park, offered to host the plays at the Levitas Center for the Arts within the Cultural Center if there is foul weather.

“It’s a real feather in our cap, to be honest, to be able to play in a place like Southampton,” Mr. Marr said, citing the community’s orientation toward the arts.

“Last year, it was just magical for us,” he said. “A wonderful evening, great audience to play to and we look forward to coming back.”

Whether Shakespeare is played for city children seeing their first play, or an older crowd in an affluent area full of well-educated people, such as the Hamptons, the plays are always well-received, Mr. Marr said, calling it a testament to Shakespeare’s brilliance.

“These plays were written for everybody,” he said. “He was writing for laborers, he was writing for the educated, the uneducated, for nobility, aristocracy, and even had the talent to write for beggars.”

Mr. Marr founded Hip to Hip in 2007 with his wife, who will play Juliet.

“This year’s been a big step for us” Mr. Marr said. The company was granted tax-exempt status and featured in June in a New York Times article, “All the City’s a Stage,” about troupes that perform free Shakespeare across New York City. And the company has launched a website, hiptohip.org.

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