Scene: Dusk in Omaha's Elmwood Park. A setting sun paints the clouds pink against a still blue sky. People filter into the park, carrying baskets, blankets and bottles. It is a perfect night for outdoor theater. A romantic night, especially for Shakespeare.
Onstage is the tragedy “Titus Andronicus.” Offstage is a much lighter tale: a three-part story about love.
Act I, Denise and Bob
Denise and Bob Bennett arrive an hour early. Denise and Bob bring their teenage son and Denise's sister.
They have chairs up front. Chairs with their names on them. Chairs for donors.
Denise and Bob have been donating to Shakespeare on the Green because it offers more than entertainment. This is how Denise and Bob celebrate their 27-year marriage.
Every year they come. Every year they bring their wine and cheese and fruit.
Every year Denise slips a notebook into her picnic backpack to scribble down lines that amuse her, that make her think.
Here's what she thinks tonight: Thank God for Bob. She can't think of a better way to spend a beautiful summer night than in this park, to see plays half a millennium old and with this man she married in 1986.
Bob loves Shakespeare. Denise loves that Bob loves Shakespeare. She loves that this is something Denise the elementary school teacher and Bob the biochemist can share.
They see the same play two or three times. They come for the timeless Shakespearean stories of revenge and love — though, frankly, it's love that drew them here in the first place.
The year was 1987. It was their first wedding anniversary. Then living in Hastings, Neb., Denise and Bob had seen a World-Herald article on a new event for Omaha: outdoor Shakespeare.
Denise and Bob got a motel room. They drove to Elmwood Park. They brought a picnic blanket, wine and the top of their year-old wedding cake, covered in plastic wrap.
They were there for the comedy “The Taming of the Shrew,” but it might as well have been for the other play that year, the tragedy “The Tempest.”
It rained. It poured. Denise and Bob huddled under their picnic blanket before giving up and bolting to their car.
Back in the motel room, they unwrapped the cake, scraped off the year-old frosting and the year-old mosquitoes that had gotten trapped on their muggy, buggy outdoor wedding day.
They decided the experience was more comedic than tragic and vowed to do it again.
They returned to Elmwood Park the following year. And most years after that.
Last week Denise and Bob marked their 27th wedding anniversary at Elmwood Park.
They will return this Sunday. They will sit in their chairs for “Twelfth Night.” They will sip wine and drink in the romantic setting, the romantic words and being together.
* * *
Act II, Christina and Adam
Christina and Adam Cejka are coming to see the dark play “Titus Andronicus.”
On a Tuesday, no less, when Shakespeare draws a fraction of the normal weekend crowd.
No matter. Intimacy is intimacy, whether it's a table for two in an emptying restaurant, or a blanket on a hillside with fewer than 200 or so others. You celebrate love wherever you can, especially after years of broken hearts, wrong turns and missed chances.
Christina had been engaged maybe seven times. Adam had been married twice.
The two Gen Xers had been a bit forlorn about the situation last year and complained to a massage therapist named Carol.
Carol had been treating Christina for a sore neck. She was separately treating Adam for a broken arm.
Christina, a business analyst, was 39 and sure that love's chance had passed. Adam was 38 and had filled the void in his heart with other things: his civilian job at Offutt Air Force Base, his service as a chief petty officer in the Navy Reserves, his volunteer work, taekwondo and time with his two daughters.
Carol played matchmaker. She told Christina she knew someone who would be perfect for her. She told Adam she knew someone who would be perfect for him.
The two met at a blind dinner date last year. Christina, a blind date veteran, came early. Adam, who had never been on a blind date, came a few minutes late. He apologized for the time. He apologized for the color of the red rose he presented, hoping it wasn't too forward.
The hours melted, and soon Christina and Adam were among the only customers at Hector's.
On their second date, they restaurant-hopped, closing down each one, including a Village Inn at 3 in the morning. They didn't realize Village Inn ever closed.
Several months later, they were mugging for a Shakespeare on the Green promoter, smooching as she took their picture before watching the 2012 production of “The Comedy of Errors.” That could have been the story of their lives — wrongly matched lovers making right in the end.
Last fall, after a long drive and a hike up a hill to a special place in Gretna, Adam got on one knee and asked Christina to look at the moon.
Once in a blue moon, Adam told Christina, you find that person who was meant for you.
They married in May. Carol the massage therapist came.
Christina still has that first-date rose.
* * *
Act III, Maggie and Charles
Maggie and Charles V. Fisher were at Elmwood on Tuesday night, but not to see “Titus Andronicus.”
The 25-year-olds go to make “Titus Andronicus.”
Maggie is a dramaturge, a researcher and the play's assistant director. She interviewed real-life victims of violence and studied what happens when you cut out a tongue or slice off a hand, which is the fate that befalls the character Lavinia.
Charles is props master. He made the wolf, stag and crow masks and puppets that signify the dark tragedy's characters, respectively: Murder, Rape and Revenge.
The Fishers have arrived at Elmwood early. Maggie appears in an offstage Q & A, a way for early-bird audience members to learn more about the productions. Charles is delivering fresh corn bread cakes he has baked in their Dundee duplex.
This marks the second theatrical production the couple have worked on. The first was a play at the University of Nebraska at Omaha where they met and, as Maggie tells it, instantly fell in love.
“It's very hard to explain and it sounds so cliche,” Maggie says about their whirlwind romance, their courthouse wedding. “But when you know, you know.”
They worked and dated for two months, and then one night, while playing a board game called Zombies, Charles drew a card on which Maggie had written her proposal: “Will you marry me? Roll a 4, 5 or 6 for 'yes,' a 1, 2, 3 for 'no.' May you roll until you get the desired outcome.”
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.|
Charles rolled. A few times. And got the desired outcome. They married last September.
For the Fishers, Shakespeare isn't just love. It's a way of life. Disagreements are settled with swords, albeit Nerf swords. They wear their hearts on their sleeves, professing that the other is their everything.
“He takes care of me,” Maggie says, “just as much as I take care of him.”
When they're not enmeshed in Shakespeare, they're at other jobs. Charles installs and designs theatrical lighting. Maggie brews lattes at Legend Comics & Coffee.
After Charles delivers the corn bread cakes and Maggie has finished answering audience questions, they leave Elmwood Park.
It is early. The play has not yet begun. Charles must get to another job. Maggie has walls to scrub and a kitchen to unpack.
They are blissfully happy.
Saturday night, in what will be an unfamiliar role for them, the Fishers will be audience members. They will bring a blanket and pack a picnic and have a date.
Curtain closes. Our tale ends here. And Shakespeare on the Green will wrap up Sunday. But it will live on in the memories of Denise and Bob, Christina and Adam, Maggie and Charles. Until another season unfolds next summer at Elmwood Park, playing, perhaps, to a new cast of lovers young and old.