Myths in the forest at Maudslay

Theater in the Open takes on two classic plays this summer
By Terry Date Staff writer, Daily News, Newburyport

The setting’s trees reflect Antigone’s nature — wild, solid and grounded.

The setting’s wall reflects her nemesis — an unyielding, constricting and imposing local power structure.

These timeless forces play out in the Greek tragedy “Antigone,” said Aisha Delilah, the 21-year-old Haverhill actress who plays the title character.

Theater in the Open, the drama company in residence at Maudslay State Park for 30 years, is presenting Sophocles’ “Antigone” and Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in July and August.

A Theater in the Open member since she was 13, Delilah said that she brings physicality and a sense of weight to the role of Antigone, conveying her passionate, impulsive and committed nature. Stephen Haley directs both plays with a cast of 20 actors. Artistic director and actor Edward Speck said that the productions explore divergent visions of the world in ancient Greece.

“The audience sees two plots derived from the same mythological moment, two stories that use that mythology — in very different ways — to express cultural values,” he said.

Speck plays Creon, the ruler of Thebes, in “Antigone.” He said that his character’s fatal flaw is an insistence on following the letter of the law.

“In his absolute belief in his own rightness,” Speck said.

Creon ultimately learns otherwise — “through blood and tears.”

Audiences are transported in these productions. Actors reach back in time, and observers can almost reach out and touch the enduring human dramas.

They are set on the Moseley estate in the nearly 500-acre Maudslay State Park, home to gardens, meadows, stone arch bridges, carriage roads and a reflecting pond.

Speck said that proximity makes the drama personal. The audience members, on lawn chairs, benches and blankets, sit as close as 6 inches from the action.

And the natural setting complements the action. In fact, the grounds become characters in the plays, he said.

“We are performing under 100-year-old trees with gnarled trunks that put us in the mythical past,” Speck said.

The troupe couldn’t decide between performing a tragedy or a comedy this summer, so they are doing both. They present approaches to power that pertain as much today as they did more than 2,000 years ago, Speck said. “Antigone” performances started last weekend; “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” begins next weekend.

Both plays will be part of a new free festival that Theater in the Open will host the weekend of Aug. 12-13. The event will start Saturday morning at 11 with Family Hour in the Open, an interactive hour of exploration and performance. At 2 p.m., the actors present their spring production, “Snow White: A Through the Looking Glass Panto.” Sunday afternoon, the myths embody the grounds. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” plays at 1 p.m., followed by Antigone at 4 p.m.

There will also be games and light refreshments both days.

If you go

What: “Antigone” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

When: “Antigone” on July 15, 16, 23 and 30 at 4 p.m. and Aug. 13 at 5 p.m.; “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on July 22 and 29 and Aug. 19 and 20 at 4 p.m. and Aug. 13 at 1 p.m.

Where: Maudslay State Park, Curzon Mill Road, Newburyport. Follow the Theater in the Open flags from the parking lot.

How much: Free. Parking is $5 for Massachusetts vehicles, $10 for out-of-state cars.

More information: 978-465-2572 or