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Raising the Bard

Starved for a little culture, or perhaps a little starlight? This weekend, there is ample opportunity to satisfy your need for both. After a year-long hiatus, Heartland Actors Repertory Theatre's Shakespeare on the Canal has happily returned to White River State Park.
 
This season's play—Othello—is the fourth that HART has staged (for free) in the downtown park, and it might just be the strongest yet. This year HART has opted to go nearly set-free, instead making the most of the riverfront amphitheater's assets. Its bridge, water overlook, pathways, and grassy esplanade all come into play—so to speak—for a theater-in-the-round-style performance. The direction and costuming lean heavily traditional, which allows the capable cast's skills and the Bard's rapier wit to shine. So while this may not be the most innovative staging of Othello you've seen, it certainly will be just as satisfying. 
 
What separates this from past park performances—Two Gentlemen of Verona, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Merchant of Venice—is the seriousness of the play, the mood of which darkens along with the night sky, and the depths the cast plumbs to tackle the issues of racism, gender, and murder. This play, even more than Merchant, deals with some heavy stuff, and the actors are up to the lifting. Ryan Artzberger as the villain Igor switches from comic to duplicitous and from harmless to madman in a heartbeat. He makes the character almost likable, and steals the show.
 
Will this compare to the best summer's day, er, eve you've spent in a while? Yes! And there is still time to catch a performance, so grab a few blankets and a picnic and go be a penny groundling. You won't have to pay a farthing for a lovely night of Shakespeare under the stars.

 
Remaining shows: Saturday, July 21 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, July 22 at 2 p.m. White River State Park's Celebration Plaza Amphitheater. Free. Arrive early to nab the best spots on the lawn and catch some live, pre-show music by the Deoc Quartet. The park provides a limited number of comfy, low-rider lawn chairs for free.