Category Archives: Shakespeare on the Green

Hot, humid, and Hamlet

We’ve hit peak summer! The kids are done with summer school, and the temperature and humidity are cranked up to high, turning all of Omaha into the world’s biggest sauna.

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Of course, little things like heat stroke won’t keep us away from some of my favorite annual traditions, specifically the concert at Memorial Park, which almost didn’t happen at all this year. Tens of thousands of people took their usual spots on the green to welcome Chris Isaak and Steven Van Zandt (AKA Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul) to Omaha for a hot, steamy evening of music outdoors. We arrived just in time to see the conclusion of the opening local Band, The Firm, before having a couple hours to run around and sweat as the sun went down.

Our old friends the Mathis family returned from living several years abroad in Thailand and joined us on our blanket for the duration of the performance, as did Jon Paper and Kate and her girls. Jolene kept the kids busy with some fun patriotic head gear, games, and glow sticks, while I kept busy trying not to pass out while chasing Aaron around the park. The evening concluded with the traditional fireworks, which we got to see before trudging back to our cars.

I wasn’t even familiar with the bands that were playing, but I’m very glad the concert still happened — especially since Loessfest is now permanently cancelled for the year. Special thanks especially to a few “anonymous” donors including Susie Buffett, who was unexpectedly outed by Little Steven at the end of the concert.

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We spent a quiet Saturday celebrating the last day of Chick-Fil-A appreciation month. Then we welcomed Grammy back after her month away in California by having her babysit the kids as we went off to see Hamlet. It wasn’t much cooler the next day, but the “green” in Elmwood Park had shade and even a breeze that made for a far more comfortable performance.

An almost entirely different set of friends joined us on our blanket for our second “Shakesperience” of the year, including Randy and Jolene, Mark, Phil and Jen, and also Lisa (again). We shared food on the blanket briefly before the show began, and It was a very good performance, as usual. One actor played three roles as Hamlet’s father’s ghost, a grave digger, and an actor. Hamlet was also played inexplicably played by a woman, as were multiple other male parts of the play, but aside from brief confusion as to which character was which, I was able to follow the classic story without any trouble.

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On Sunday, we had a welcome back dinner with Grammy with some homemade ceviche, but for the most part we stayed inside and cool (though some of Hannah’s toys ventured out to the driveway for whatever reason). Then on Monday we spent the evening down at Seymour Smith park to swing and run around in their spray-ground. We invited Lexi and her kids along and made an evening of it before returning home for some pulled pork sandwiches for dinner.

Next stop: Independence Day!

All’s Well

We’re creeping up on the busiest time of summer, when we hit a slew of our favorite outdoor activities just as the temperature ramps up to smoldering (and hopefully without any rain).

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First on the agenda is our first visit to Shakespeare on the Green. It was the evening that almost wasn’t, as the National Weather Service was predicting an 80% chance of rain during the show all the way up until a few hours before it started. I fortunately hedged my bets and saved us a spot on the green. A handful of our friends joined us for a relatively pleasant (and perfectly dry) evening. As usual, we got to play a bit of dress-up and share some food and drink together before the show started. This evening’s program was All’s Well that Ends Well, played entirely by a female cast this time around. I was only vaguely familiar with the plot of the play before it started, but it was fairly easy to follow, even with the gender-bent cast.

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Saturday was my brother Nathan’s birthday, so my dad grilled up burgers for lunch and we even had a “7-up” cake to celebrate. Hannah and Aaron both decorated some cards, and we played a game or two after lunch. (Dad also wanted to play some old movies of his, but his ancient movie projector decided not to cooperate.)

Then that evening, our friends Kody and Jenny hosted a “deck party” up at their house in Bennington. Kody had some pork tacos for everyone, and we got to eat outside with a handful of our friends and their kids. Aaron had Hannah played some made-up games with hula hoops and had a particularly good time chasing bubble around. There were more thunderstorms in the area, but we were fortunate enough to remain dry the whole evening once again.

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I decided to take Monday off for a delightful kid-free day of cleaning the garage. I also wound up mowing three lawns in the space of a few days — my dad’s, Jack’s, and our own. Jack actually cooked up some barbecue pork chops and shrimp for dinner, which we ate with the kids out on the back deck after I gave the lawn a trim.

This is the kids’ last week of Summer School, so Vivian and I have been making the most of it — particularly having a breakfast or two together without the need for babysitters. On Wednesday, we went to First Watch here in Bellevue, and then on Friday hit Burger King, just for the heck of it. It’ll be nice not having to shove the kids out the door every day for school, but it’s also been nice to have some quiet days for cleaning up the house as well.

Next stop: Memorial Park Concert and the Fourth of July!

Much ado about summer

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If you hadn’t noticed, it’s summer, and among other things, that means it’s stinking hot every single day. Last Friday, we dropped by Orange Leaf to give the kids their first taste of frozen yogurt (with an assortment of sugary toppings) to cool off before taking them to the nice and shady Elmwood Park to play at lunchtime.

Elmwood Park is over 100 years old, and even though it’s been updated with new playground equipment, you can tell how old the park is from the giant trees lining the walkways. The play area was also littered with sandbox toys that Hannah and Aaron made use of, which were apparently put there by the park specifically for kids to play with

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Then on Saturday, because once is never enough, we returned to Shakespeare on the Green to see their final performance of Much Ado About Nothing. It was a beautifully cool evening, so there was naturally a record crowd there to see the show with us. Fortunately, I was up bright and early to claim a spot right up front. Our usual assortment of friends dropped by to share the blanket with us, and they also brought their usual assortment of tasty, pre-show foods — including pupusas from El Chalateco and pesto bread from Lydia (which Vivian was happy to see).

The wandering minstrels came by to sing by our blanket for the show started around eight. The play was done straight, though the actors had Navy uniforms and costumes reminiscent of a 1950s beach party, which gave the production a bit of a retro-modern feel. They also had beach balls that they batted into the crowd at the end of the show. I had the opportunity to thank a few of the actors for their performances before we left — getting to see them playing various parts year after year makes it feel like we’re a part of their family.

Knee-deep in the hoopla

The Fourth of July is almost here! Yes, in the dead-heat of summer, we’ve got lots of fun things happening in Omaha to keep us busy, especially when we’re outside in the steaming hot weather (rather than inside playing with our electronic toys).

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First up is one of my favorite events of the year, the free concert at Memorial Park! This year it was a muggy 95 degrees in Omaha, but that didn’t stop us from trekking to our usual spot on the hill to enjoy some great music. Local favorite The Confidentials opened up the event as concert-goers found their seats and played catch out on the green. Dean and Sarah joined us on our blanket as the sun set, but most of our usual friends sat the concert out because of the heat. Our kids seemed unphased by the heat and enjoyed running around playing with a football and a bubble gun, which was fine by us.

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Survivor — who was supposed to open for the headliner at this year’s concert — bowed out at the last minute for unknown reasons. Fortunately, David Victor and his band “Bostyx” stepped in to play a variety of cover songs from both Boston and Styx. They proved to be a tremendous crowd-pleaser, and many concert-goers thought they were the highlight of the evening.

Of course, the highlight for me was Starship — a band I’d listened to growing up in the 80s and for many years since. Mickey Thomas was the only member still with the band since it has “Jefferson” in its name, but the songs were still just as good as I remembered. This year was particularly special, because I not only got to see the event from the VIP pen for the first time, but I even got to go backstage to meet-and-greet the band! (It definitely pays to have connections with Metro Credit Union, who are the new sponsors of this annual event.)

The concert concluded with a lovely fireworks show, which we got to watch with the kids before making our way back to the car. It was a long, fun night, but it was quite nice to get back home to enjoy air conditioning once it was done.

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Of course, we got right back up the next day to take Aaron for his last tee-ball practice at Baldwin Field. He’s gotten much better at hitting the ball, and just being able to participate in a team and take direction from a coach has been a good, growing-up experience for our four-year-old.

Afterward, we dropped by grandma and grandpa’s house to let the kids play as I did some laundry. Apparently our washer’s broken again, but I’m hoping a new lid switch will get it working again. In the meantime, Uncle Jonny introduced Hannah to Super Mario World and a British comedian named Peter Serafinowicz.

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We had planned for an evening with Shakespeare on the Green Saturday night, but it was pretty clear that thunderstorms were in the forecast, so we bailed on the event long before it was officially cancelled. I was up bright and early the next day to claim our favorite spot for Sunday night’s show. We dropped by Thanksgiving Lutheran for their Sunday Service and got to see highlights from Hannah’s week at their VBS program.

Then that evening, Grammy watched the kids as Vivian and I joined our mutual friends Phil and Jen, Lisa, Jessica, Jenny and Kody on our blanket to see King John. Phil and Jen brought some Papa Reno goodness with them, and Vivian had her usual assortment of cheese and salami. We saw some kids from Camp Shakespeare perform an abbreviated version of The Tempest before the show got underway. This year, King John was dine with a bit of a “punk” theme in the music and some of the costumes, but it was mostly played straight with only a little deviation from the script before the end of the show.

ostly, however, we enjoyed a rain-free performance with temperatures in the 70s. Now THAT was worth a standing ovation. Next stop: Independence Day!

Starship featuring Mickey Thomas… and me!Knee-deep in the hoopa!

Raining on our parade…and concert…and play

We just wrapped up a long, fun, and very busy Independence Day weekend, which featured several outdoor activities that were bombarded with rain at one level or another.

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First came the Bank of the West Celebrates America concert at Memorial Park. Kool & the Gang, who we had seen last year at Loessfest, were the headliners of the evening. We grabbed our spot on the green along with the West Family and around 60,000 other people (and Takashi) as emcee Nikki Boulay kicked off the evening. A line of ominous clouds gathered on the horizon as opening act, the Emmett Bower Band, sang country songs about beer. Then the Confidentials took the stage just as a thundershower broke, quickly drenching everyone on the green for half an hour and driving away a fair chunk of concert goers.

Those of us who weather the storm, however, were treated to a double rainbow at the end, followed by Kool and the Gang. It was the first time I’d seen the same band twice at one of our free outdoor concerts, and it was fun to hear a different mix of the songs than the ones they played last year (though they finished off with Celebration, of course). The kids were more interested in the fireworks and playing with their new bubble gun, but everyone had a good time, despite getting drenched.

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The next day, we returned to Elmwood Park for another night of Shakespeare on the Green, this time featuring the Merry Wives of Windsor. There was a much bigger crowd this week, but I was still lucky enough to snag a spot near the front. Tamra, Lydia, Anne and Brandon joined us on our blanket to share in A lovely spread., and pesto bread before the show. There was also a brief Q&A with a few of the actors, and then Editorial Cartoonist / Swing Band Leader Jeff Koterba took the stage to kick things off.

The play itself was very good, and a little more risqué than I would have expected for a Shakespearean comedy. The forecast called for clear skies for the evening, but halfway through the first act, it started to rain once again. The actor paid no mind, of course, but several members of the audience took off before the rain cleared up around intermission. A few stagehands mopped the stage, and the cast finished off the play without a hitch (that we could tell).

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Then came Independence Day, which fell on a Tuesday, happily interrupting our 40-hour work week. I kicked off the day claiming a spot on the parade route for the Ralston Parade, and then I dropped by the pavilion at Elmwood Park for pancakes with the Douglas County Republican Party. Mayor Jean Stothert, Governor Pete Ricketts, and Congressman Don Bacon were all on hand to meet and greet, take photos, and serve up food. Ian Swanson from AM 1420 was also there rubbing elbows with County Chair Jon Tucker among others, and I even bumped into Bellevue Mayor Rita Sanders, who was out for a bike ride with her husband Mike.

There was also a car show going on in the parking lot, so I walked past a few classic cars, and I also took a minute to check out the grotto, which was created when Elmwood Park was first built, which had a natural spring neatly hidden away from street traffic.

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I headed home to cool off with the kids for a bit before we returned to our spot for the Ralston Parade. Jenny and Kody joined us on our blanket as we got to watch the usual batch of clowns, roller-skaters, Shriners, bands, stormtroopers, and jitterbugs make their way down Main Street. A real-life troll from some left-wing group (who also trolled Sen. Fischer’s town hall) actually followed Don Bacon’s entourage to harass him, but the congressman took it in stride.

Halfway through the parade, it started raining once again. We huddled underneath a tree and stayed relatively dry through most of it, and even though the rest of the parade wound up getting drenched, they kept on marching through it all. We dropped by Dairy Queen afterward for some ice cream (along with the Jitterbugs) before heading back home.

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Then that evening, my parents had us and Vivian’s folks over for some dinner and fireworks. Vivian and I brought along burgers and hot dogs, and Donna brought some lemon lasagna for dessert. We ate outside, which was lovely and cool after the rain on our parade.

Then after dinner, we took to the driveway to set off some fireworks along with the rest of the neighborhood. We had a modest number of fountains, sparklers, and artillery shells in our arsenal, but our fireworks were dwarfed by our neighbors’ who had a whole series that rivaled what we’d seen on Friday night at Memorial Park.

All things considered, it was a super fun weekend. Next year, however, we’ll have to remember to bring our umbrellas, no matter what it says in the forecast.

King Lear, Food Trucks, and Prager University

We just got finished with a massively fun (and full) weekend, fueled partly by some gorgeous 70-degree weather that made outdoor activities all the more enjoyable.

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On Thursday morning, I got up bright and early to see radio talk show host and namesake of “Prager University” Dennis Prager at the Hotel RL (right around the corner from where I work). The guys at AM 1420 The Answer were hosting him for his 100 Days of Trump speaking tour, so I and a handful of conservative friends got to have breakfast with hosts Chip Maxwell, Ian Swanson, and Clint Bellows before Prager took the stage.

Prager gave a brief talk touching on the political climate, his rationale for supporting Donald Trump, and also a bit of religion and ethics. Then he took some questions from the audience. I asked for his take on the situation at Evergreen College (where a mob of students held the president hostage and demanded all white faculty leave campus), particularly in light of his upcoming movie with Adam Carolla, “No Safe Spaces.” His take was that college presidents were as much (if not more) to blame for the situation than the students — and that it would end “in a nanosecond” is the students were expelled rather than coddled.

It was a fun event, and I got to see a few familiar faces in the crowd, including “Mason the button boy,” was apparently already well-known to the team at AM 1420.

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Then on Friday, I nabbed a front-row seat to see King Lear with a bunch of our friends at Shakespeare on the Green. I grabbed an iced coffee from my friend Maxine, and then Frank gave Vivian a ride down to our spot once she arrived. Then we broke out our cheese, salmon, and other vittles as the crowd started to gather. Joining us on our blanket were Phil and Jen, Jon, Lisa, Tamra, and Nate and Lexi. Director Vincent Carlson-Brown had a Q&A with some of the crew, so I asked questions about dealing with changing outdoor light during a show and switching sets between a comedy and tragedy.

The wandering minstrels (a few of whom were dressed as Disney princesses for some reason) wandered through the crowd as usual. Then the evening’s emcee, Douglas Vincent Wesselmann (aka Otis Twelve) from KVNO, spoke a few words before the show started. It was an absolutely gorgeous night, particularly for June, and so cool in fact that we needed to put on blankets and hoodies by the second act. The show was terrific, of course, and even though I hadn’t read up at all on King Lear before the show started, I was able to follow the plot reasonably well all the way to the end.

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After a late night in Elmwood Park, I got a few hours of sleep before dragging myself out of bed for an early-morning Senate campaign kick-off with Deb Fischer. There were only a handful of people at Eppley Airfield for the event at seven o’clock, but there were more than a dozen Republican VIPs on hand to endorse Sen. Fischer’s re-election campaign, including Gov. Pete Ricketts, former Governors Kay Orr and Dave Heineman, Mayors Jean Stothert and Rita Sanders (and Hal Daub), Congressmen Don Bacon and Adrian Smith, and several others whose names I couldn’t recall (but should have).

Our friend Jessica Ritchie was there to record the event for KETV, but there were only a handful of “regular” citizens in attendance (and no protesters). I was able to shake hands and chat with just about everybody. Many of the VIPs had to leave for other events (including Fischer, who had a state-wide tour the same day), but I spent a few minutes chatting with Major Stothert about our current political climate (see “Phil Montag” for more information).

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The weather continued to be gorgeous throughout the day, so toward evening, I decided to take the kids and Grammy down to Plattsmouth for a “Food Truck War.” A couple thousand people seemed to have the same idea (including our old friend Luke), so all of main street was clogged with people standing in line for food from a dozen food trucks that could barely keep up with the demand. I’d hoped to get a lobster roll from one truck that ran out just as we got our chance to order, so I got a couple tacos for us instead (as the kids nibbled some donut holes of some kind).

There were plenty of other trucks we could have sampled from, but nearly every one had lined 40-people deep, and there was only so much standing in line any of us could manage. Hannah and Aaron did great, however, and had loads of fun just running around before we called it a night.

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The beautiful weather continued on through Sunday, so Vivian and I took the kids down to Stinson Park for some farmers’ market fun and some Lindy in the Park. We got a couple breakfast egg rolls for lunch (and balloons for the kids), and then got some quality time dancing with our Jitterbug friends once Billy and Lindsey came by with their kids. Edith Ann (AKA “Honey”) was celebrating a birthday today as well, which included a a birthday jam and a water balloon fight afterward (which Eric seemed to enjoy more than anyone). We danced a little with our kids, but they seemed to enjoy playing with Vivian and some bubbles afterward the most. We wore ourselves out over a couple hours before heading home and getting some ice cream along the way.

Summer is good so far. Next stop: Memorial Park and the Fourth of July!

Macbeth and the Mads

I had a tremendously fun weekend here in Omaha, and I spent some of it bumping into famous people “in the neighborhood.” More on that in a second.

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On Saturday, we got to see the final performance of Macbeth with a few of our friends at Shakespeare on the Green. We got to see a Q&A session with the cast, and the kids from Camp Shakespeare performed their own truncated version of the play. Director Vincent Carlson-Brown presented an award to the 500,000th Nebraska Shakespeare attendee, which was a girl a bit too young to take advantage of the free parking space her prize entailed (among other things). They also announced the retirement of the company’s long-time sound engineer Rande Ferguson, who received an award for his 30 years of service.

The show itself was wonderful, of course, with a great musical score and “slow motion” fight scenes that added to the drama. It was much cooler than Taming of the Shrew had been a few weeks ago, with no chance of rain this time, so the crowd was decidedly larger. Among the guests was Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, who we bumped into before the show started. There’s something unique about Nebraska, where you can bump into the governor like any normal person on a Saturday night.

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Then on Sunday, I took a fun trip with my dad down to O Comic Con at the Mid-America Center across the river. I went specifically to see Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff, who played Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank (the “Mads”) on the movie-riffing show Mystery Science Theater 3000. They had a Q&A session for guests and plenty of time for autographs and pictures at their booth, and I thanked them both for all the laughs they’d given our family over the years.

Then I discovered, right across the aisle, were Bob McGrath and Emilio Delgado — AKA Bob and Luis from Sesame Street. I’d grown up watching both of these guys interact with Big Bird Oscar the Grouch as a kid, so I said hello and thanked them both for being a part of my childhood. I learned later that both “Bob and Luis” and “the Mads” had gone down to the Old Market to have ice cream at Ted & Wally’s. I only wish I’d been there to get a picture of THAT.

Taming of the Shrew

Omaha’s buzzing right now with such events as the College World Series and the Olympic Swim Trials, but we were much more interested in one of my favorite traditions over the weekend: Shakespeare on the Green.

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For 30 years, Nebraska Shakespeare has been performing the works of the bard out at Elmwood Park, and this year their comedy of choice is Taming of the Shrew. As usual, we gathered with a bunch of our friends to have wine and vittles on the green in-between trying on Elizabethan-era clothes for the full Shakespearience. The wandering minstrels were back of course, and a few cast members had some Q&A before the show started. We also discovered a picture I took a few years ago somehow found its way onto one of the official Nebraska Shakespeare banners, making our group more a part of this event than ever.

The crowd was notably smaller than usual, either from competing events or fear of a thunderstorm, which was originally predicted around showtime. It was hot and muggy without even the slightest breeze, but fortunately we didn’t get more rain than just a sprinkle or two.

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The play kicked off around seven, introduced briefly by emcee Tom Becka (continuing his reign of terror by stalking me) and a band of minstrels who performed in the audience before moving on stage. The show itself was unique in that all the parts were played by men in true Shakespearean fashion. Seeing both men playing women and men playing men but acting effeminate wearing strangely frilly outfits was strange to say the least, but the performance was good as always, and even easy to follow for those of us in the present century. I was fortunately enough to snag a spot right behind the VIP section earlier in the day, giving me and my friends a front-row seat.

In other news, Hannah gave Aaron some schooling by setting up her own mock preschool when our backs were turned, being as adorable as ever.

I Love Rock and Roll

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It was another fun-filled weekend here in Omaha, once that require me taking a whole day off in order to enjoy it properly. The fun started on Friday, when Vivian and I put on sunscreen took the kids on down to Memorial Park for the annual Bank of the West Celebrated America concert. This year, they brought in Eddie Money and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts to fill the jam-packed park with rocking music I remembered from the 80s. We invited the Dougans and Jon Paper to share a blanket with us as we most kept wrangling the kids in-between photo sessions with the band. Our friend Jessica — on duty with KPTM — also stopped by to do an actual TV interview with me.

This was Hannah’s third concert at Memorial Park, and the third (and final) time she’s got to wear her cute “peace” outfit. It was also the first time Aaron got to see real fireworks, and it was cute to see his staring in awe and trying to touch them by reaching out his hand. The emcee claimed it was twice as long as usual, but it sure didn’t seem like it. I’m not complaining though — it was the only way to end the evening with a bang!

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On Saturday night, we made a second trip down to Elmwood Park to enjoy another evening of Shakespeare on the Green, this time to see the tragedy Othello. We forewent the Shakespearean cos-play this time, but we did sit in on a panel discussion with the director and some of the cast for a brief chat about the swordplay on stage. It was also bring-your-pet night, so the emcee handed out a few prizes for some animals who dressed up for the evening.

We enjoyed some vittles with Phil and Jen and Jon on our blanket and opened a bottle of wine (or two) before the show got started. The show itself was terrific, of course, and it had many of the same cast members of As You Like It playing different roles (and fighting with swords).

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We had some more theatrical fun the next day with Hannah down at The Rose theater. Our mutual friend Lisa won a set of four tickets and invited us to see Mary Poppins. It was a delightful production that seemed to captivate Hannah, and she managed to sit (mostly) still for the two or some hour performance. A few of the actors came out for some Q&A after the show, and we even got to have autographs upstairs with a few of the cast members.

I was impressed with the lovely old theater, which still carried much of the original 1920s charm it had when it was built as the Spanish-style “Riveria.” They also were very kid-friendly, with a “wiggle room” with its own simulcast of the play, so parents could continue to watch the show even if their kids needed to get up and run around.

All the World’s a Stage

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Summer’s almost here, and that means lots of hot and humid days. Over the lunch hour on Friday, Vivian and Lexi brought our cluster of kids down to Seymour Smith Park at 72nd and Harrison for an hour or two in the sun with the “all play” splash park. Hannah had visited last year, and now Aaron was big enough to crawl around and get a little wet. Of course, he and August also crawled around the interactive playground area as well, getting plenty of sun in-between coatings of sun screen.

Then on Saturday afternoon, we dropped by the Lenart house to give Kara a surprise (40th) birthday party with a bunch of our mutual friends.

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On Saturday evening, we made our annual trip down to Elmwood Park for an evening with Shakespeare in the Park, courtesy of Nebraska Shakespeare. I came down early to spread out a big mesh floor so a dozen or so of us could spread out to enjoy the show with all the vittles we brought. We also spent a good amount of time before the show playing dress up with the variety of accouterments (and weaponry) available at the dress-up tent. I think in a year or two Hannah’s going to be old enough to join the rest of us kids in our medieval play.

Speaking of play, the production of As You Like It was very good as well. I’d knew next to nothing about the play myself when we arrived, but Vivian and I were able to follow along with the plot fairly easily. I think once you’ve seen a few Shakespearean Comedies, you start to get the gist of them — gender-bending characters, wrestling matches, foolish comic relief and several weddings at the end to wrap things up. The Company added their own touches with animal puppetry and some Celtic music of sorts, giving us a reason to have a Hoedown at the end of the show.

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On Sunday was Father’s Day, and once again we had three dads in attendance. The ladies made us men-folk a batch of flatiron steaks with potato and fruit salads. Hannah got to showcase her artistic talents via some gift bags and a nice little photo frame of “dad” for me. Mostly, it was a nice, lazy Sunday, one I was grateful to have to do nothing at all in particular other than eat and visit with the family, which was downright lovely.

Thank you, Vivian, for making me feel so loved, and thanks Dad for being such a good example for me as a dad myself.