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CONTRIBUTED IMAGE  CONTRIBUTED IMAGE "The Comedy Of Errors," 8 p.m. Aug. 14; 2, 8 p.m. Aug. 15; 2, 8 p.m. Aug.16, Joseph S. Daddona Lake and Terrace, St. Elmo and Union streets, Allentown

Shakespeare back in Allentown park

Wednesday, August 12, 2015 by LUKE MUENCH Special to The Press in Focus

We so often see theater performed on the stage or in a formal setting that we forget just how magnificent a stage nature can be. Allentown Shakespeare in the Park works to remind audiences of this.

Following its productions of "Romeo And Juliet" (2006), "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (2007), "As You Like It" (2009), "Much Ado About Nothing" (2010), "Macbeth" (2012), "Twelfth Night" (2013) and "Othello" (2014), Allentown Shakespeare in the Park presents five free performances of Shakespeare's first comedy, "The Comedy Of Errors," directed by New York director Erik Pearson.

Performances are at 8 p.m. Aug. 14; 2 and 8 p.m. Aug. 15, and 2 and 8 p.m. Aug.16, Joseph S. Daddona Lake and Terrace, St. Elmo and Union streets, Allentown. Performances are rain or shine.

Sarah Steele, founder of the annual performances, has been working diligently to bring some of Shakespeare's most classic pieces to the park. "I don't have any ties to Allentown personally, but I married someone who does," Steele says. "So when we came up to visit, I would see this park and just think 'This was made for Shakespeare.'"

With a cast of professional actors from New York, as well as a couple of local interns, not only does Shakespeare in the Park give audiences a chance to learn more about these pieces, but it also provides students from the area with irreplaceable acting experiences.

Allentown Shakespeare in the Park's Actor Apprentice Program teams local high school students with the cast of professional actors. This summer, four students are participating in the program: two from the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts (Caitlyn Kline, '15; Matt Hogan, '15) and two from William Allen High School (Ibrahim Abbakar, '15; Edilis Rivera, '18).

Rachel Towne, a Charter Arts graduate and member of the 2010 Apprentice Company, auditioned for and was cast in the professional company.

Perhaps what's seen as more irreplaceable is the fact that the plays are free-of-charge. "We wanted to take away the financial boundaries to allow everyone to come," Steele recalls. "Before each show, I like to walk through the audience and introduce myself, explaining how the project was started. I'm constantly meeting parents who are bringing their kids to see their first Shakespeare play, and it's so encouraging to know that, because it's free, we're providing families with such a fantastic opportunity."

In order to allow for this, a variety of local businesses and restaurants provide grants to the program each year, such as the Renaissance Allentown Hotel. "It helps to let us know that there's an audience for all this every year, that we're bringing something truly unique to such a great community."

"The Comedy Of Errors," with twin brothers, both named Antipholus and separated at birth, revolves around the day the main characters happen into the same town, confusing cops, wives, and many other inhabitants.

Presenting the play outdoors already draws some attention, but what really makes this production stand out is how many actors are involved: seven actors perform 15 roles, adding a new dimension to the characters, especially the twins.

"It's hard finding two people who look similar enough to be convincing twins." explains Steele.

"Not only that, but it allows us to better explore these characters in-depth. They have the same genes, but such different experiences and characteristics in life."

The cast is Carter Gill, Sofia Gomez, Christopher Ryan Grant, Jeff Hathcoat, Victoria Janicki, Lily Narbonne and Rachel Towne. The creative team includes Edward T. Morris, sets; Anthony Forchielli, lights; Valérie T. Bart, costumes, and Joel Abbott, original music, sound.

In the play, the father of the two boys, Egeon, is a roaming minstrel, playing sad country-like music throughout the piece. Taking full advantage of this, this "Comedy Of Errors" sees one of the actors, an accomplished musician, taking the role in a new direction, as a wandering cowboy playing melodies throughout the play and one hour before the show, giving audiences a reason to get to the park early to enjoy the atmosphere and a light picnic.

If you don't want to bring your own food, food carts will be present at the performances, including Stuffed To The Grills and the Taza Truck.

To date, more than 6,000 have attended an Allentown Shakespeare in the Park performance.