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Midsummer night's plays

Not even the most diligent red ants can stop culture hounds from descending on Samuell-Grand Park with wine coolers and baked chicken: It's Bard time again, kids! And while we all nobly extol the timeless wisdom of history's most famous playwright, it seems the real draw of the Shakespeare Festival of Dallas--despite its solid, colorful productions--is the balmy embrace of a summer night, with the bonus of being able to say to your buddies the next day, "So, I saw King Lear last night. What did you do?"

For 26 years some of Dallas' most noted thespians, as well as famous guest stars and directors, have teamed up to present free performances of ol' Willie's prose, and the summer productions are the group's most popular, drawing upwards of 2,000 viewers per show. Everyone from theater purists to those just looking to get out of the house shows up. You can pick a spot on the vast grass lawn, spread a blanket, and settle down for three free hours of comedy, tragedy, romance, or history, depending on the play of the evening. (You may want to check out the size of the Igloo coolers of the people around you before picking a place. It's a decent indicator of who's there to drink and talk vs. who's there to watch the play.)

From mid-June through July 26, the festival presents Antony and Cleopatra and Much Ado About Nothing, with performances on alternating nights and kicking off at a mercifully cooling 8:15 p.m. This is the festival's first production of Antony and Cleopatra, which, despite initial criticism of Shakespeare's uncharacteristically choppy narrative in the third and fourth acts, has since been deemed one of his supreme achievements (seems Elizabethan theater critics were a harsh bunch). Directed by BBC director David Giles, the story follows, of course, the infamous Egyptian queen, the impending fall of her empire, and her torrid affair with the studly Roman warrior. Since the formal title of the play is prefixed by "The Tragedy of...," you don't have to be completely sober to figure out how it ends. Much Ado About Nothing, a summer favorite for all its spring-fever hormones (this time directed by Melia Bensussen), follows the parallel budding romances of a young couple and a not-as-young couple; its anchoring appeal comes from relentlessly edgy wordplay between the spatting Beatrice and Benedick.

In a culture-bereft city, the festival offers a truly accessible and appealing option on an otherwise too-humid-to-care evening, so grab your thermos and your folding chair and get thine arse to the park (but leave Sparky the dog and Cuervo the tequila at home; pets and hard liquor are not allowed). Come, come, let us thither, and all that...

--Christina Rees

Much Ado About Nothing plays Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays; Antony and Cleopatra shows Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, through July 26 at Samuell-Grand Park. Admission is free, though a $4 donation is requested at the gate. Gates open at 6:45 pm. Call (214) 559-2778.


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