Professional-quality, outdoor Shakespeare is being offered for free to residents of Marietta and the entire Mid-Ohio Valley this month courtesy of Shakespeare by the River. The annual program has chosen to tackle romantic comedy The Taming of the Shrew this time around, following past productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and last year’s innovative, musical interpretation of Love’s Labours Lost. Performed at the lovely Muskingum Park Pavilion, audience members are encouraged to bring chairs, picnic supplies or just themselves! Plenty of seating is already provided.

A sister production to last month’s Oklahoma! at the People’s Bank Theatre, director Andy Felt has taken a similar wild-west approach with the show and it works wonderfully. Flats labeled “Saloon” and “Padua Jail” have been constructed on each side of the pavilion to serve as wing space for exits and entrances. Dialect coach Casiha Felt did great job injecting some county twang into the actors’ delivery, as well as a fun touch of Irish brogue for two characters. Kitri Held has secured an eclectic mix of costumes for the production, including overalls, traditional Victorian garb and plenty of cowboy boots to go around. Felt and assistant fight coach Morgan Massaro have also choreographed quite a few physical gags for this technically ambitious show. To top it off, everything is beautifully lit by good, old fashioned footlights.

Cast members are a mix of talented locals and enthusiastic performers from all over the country; many of them recent graduates of Marietta College and Ohio University. Felt has brought together a wide range of actors of all ages and backgrounds…a few male characters have even been cleverly gender-swapped to balance out this battle-of-the-sexes. Everyone does a fantastic job with Thomas Daniels (Petrucio,) Sophie Mitchem (Grumio,) Woody Pond (Lucentio,) Alex Amery (Gremio,) and George Litman (the nameless town drunkard) turning in particularly outstanding performances.

The Taming of the Shrew is presented by Hipp Stage Productions and the Marietta College Theatre Department. Remaining shows are scheduled for July 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th at 8:30pm. Admission is absolutely free and you need not call ahead for any sort of reservation (but make sure to bring some cash if you’d like to contribute to donation jugs!)