West Philly’s Clark Park an enchanted island for an evening of Shakespeare

Families and couples, young and old, spread their blankets and lawn chairs across a bowl-shaped lawn in Philadelphia’s Clark park Wednesday night for the first of five free performances of “The Tempest.”

Shakespeare in Clark Park continues an eight-year tradition of bringing free performances to the masses with its production of “The Tempest.”

Families and couples, young and old, spread their blankets and lawn chairs across a bowl-shaped lawn Wednesday night for the first of five performances. Many enjoyed an alfresco dinner and wine. The creak of swings and the screams of children drifted over from the nearby playground. As the sun set, bats and dragonflies flitted overhead.

A screaming toddler had to be rushed from the scene as the titular tempest commenced, with much percussion. (Live music was composed and performed by Sean Hoots.)

After that excitement, members of the audience familiar with the play might have been surprised to learn that the central character, the sorcerer Prospero, was the lovely Miranda’s mother — not her father, as the character has been written nearly 400 years ago.

Prospero, portrayed by Catharine Slusar, is not the only traditionally male role given to a woman in this production. Catherine Palfenier makes a convincing Caliban, and Alonso becomes the Queen of Naples.

The audience did not seem to mind the gender swapping. Jessica Wong, a Bryn Mawr theater program graduate, said the changes were “intriguing” and made her rethink the characters.

“I found that the gender swap of Prospero and Alonso made their relationships with their children somehow more realistic and relatable to me,” said Wong.

Shakespeare in Clark Park will perform at 7 p.m. through July 28.

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