‘Richard III’ and other things to do in Forest Park (May 21-June 16 and anytime)

May 19, 2008

Much as I love the Shakespeare Festival‘s annual performances in Forest Park, they are one of the few free events to which I will not bring my kids. They’re mine! I love the natural ampitheater, the picnic-in-the-park atmosphere and the festival on the green before the actual play, but most of all I love the chance to be drawn into another world. I find that while I’m watching a really good production of a Shakespeare drama, I get so caught up by the language and the situation that I start to believe in it. For example, a couple of years ago during Julius Caesar, when I heard his wife’s impassioned plea for him to stay home that day, I thought that maybe, just maybe, this time he would.

I love my kids dearly, but there is no way that I can be in their presence and still concentrate so fully on a play that I lose my historical bearings!

However, last year I made an exception to my no-kids rule. My mom and I took along a teenage friend — mind you, he was not a Shakespeare-loving kid! — and I was a little worried he’d spoil it for me just by not buying into the play. But he succumbed to the spell too; it helped that Much Ado About Nothing was staged in a western town so he could at least relate to the costumes.

But every year I see plenty of parents whose kids are happily running around during the green show, watching fire-eaters and jugglers and wandering troubadours, and maybe even the ultra-condensed version of the play … and then those same kids turn wriggly and sleepy by the time the show starts at 8 p.m. Believe me, your toddlers will NOT want to fall asleep during the show, and you’ll wind up pacing at the rear of the audience, either carrying a bundle of joy or pushing a stroller, trying in vain to lull them to sleep. And then you’ll miss the whole play! It’s not that the kids disturb me — far from it! No, I feel heartsick for the parents who’re missing the world-class entertainment.

And speaking of world-class entertainment, I finally took the boys back to their favorite stream in Forest Park (the rapids a little below the Muny’s lower parking lot) and shot video of S. watching the ducks. He loves, loves, loves that park and that water and those ducks — he asks about them at least once a day, saying in his little voice, “Bye-bye duckies? Bye-bye water? Bye-bye park?” But now he can watch the duckies whenever he wants. And M. fulfilled his aspiration of crossing one of the small waterfalls all alone. Granted, the water is only ankle-deep, but I confess to a little trepidation as I watched him go. Those rocks would be sharp if he fell! He was fine, and now we have footage of his big adventure too.

Aside from playing in the stream, trekking through the pine trees and gathering up free fire kindling throughout the winter on the lower Muny lot (don’t ask me why the kids love this so much — I think it has something to do with being a boy and collecting objects from nature), we have not taken advantage of most of the park’s other activities. We’ve not yet rented a boat, nor have we rented bikes in front of the visitors’ center on Saturdays and Sundays. However, if your kids are old enough to ride, you might want to check it out, because they’ve added kid-sized bikes too. (The rate is $10 an hour or $25 for half a day; call 314.361.4477 for details.)

The Shakespeare Festival’s play this year is The Tragedy of King Richard III.  It runs from Wednesday (May 21) to June 16, every night except Tuesdays.  Weeknights tend to be less crowded, but you’ll still want to arrive early for a primo spot and plenty of time to picnic.  The green show starts at 6:30 p.m.; the play starts at 8. If it rains beforehand but stops by curtain time, and if they can get the stage dry, the show will go on as scheduled.  If you’re not sure about the weather, call the rain hotline at 314.631.9800 x7.

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