For most of us, our first exposure to Shakespeare is less than satisfying. That's because high schools across the country are afraid (or unwilling) to delve into the most fun aspect of the Bard -- his bawdiness. Sex ed is still frowned upon in some parts, so how can we expect our literature teachers to explain his masterful double-entendres? Well, you're older now, so why not give Shakespeare a second chance? Grab a blanket and your star-crossed lover and head over to Forest Park (just east of Art Hill), where the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis will be performing Macbeth from May 29 through June 15 (except Tuesdays) for free; shows start at 8 p.m., but get there early for Elizabethan dance and music. The tragic Macbeth is perhaps Shakespeare's darkest play, but picture being there, surrounded by the trees, the crickets' song and the starry night above -- it still sounds romantic. And if you must have your recommended daily allowance of violence, consider that director Rick Sordelet is one of the finest stage-fight directors around, so expect some flashy dust-ups, full of sound and fury. Call 314-361-0101 or visit www.sfstl.com for the full schedule. -- Guy Gray
You Made That Up!
Improv Fest delivers unscripted laughs
If your opinion of improv has been ruined by Drew Carey's lame attempts on Whose Line Is It Anyway? the St. Louis Improv Festival could teach you a thing or three about legitimate, creative improvised comedy. Organized and produced by local improv guru Ed Reggi and his St. Louis Improv Project, the festival presents some of the country's finest improvisers working without a net.
"We've got such a good lineup," Reggi enthuses. "People that were headlining the [Chicago Improv Fest] we've got, like Joe Bill and Mark Sutton, and Andy Eninger."
Friday night's festivities begin at 7:30 p.m. at City Improv in Union Station (20th and Market streets, $12) and feature the craft of local troupes, including Nightshift and New Madrid's Fault. Saturday showcases Eninger and his One Man Seen solo show; Sutton and Bill create something called Bassprov, both at the Center of Contemporary Arts (524 Trinity Avenue, 8 p.m., $12, 314-647-8030, ext. 4, or 314-534-1111). Reggi describes Bassprov as "two men on stage in a boat that's pantomimed, and they take a philosophical suggestion [from the audience] and then the other suggestion is, say, something you'd put your finger in. And then they improvise a complete 45-minute set of these two guys fishing, Donny and Earl. They have the poles, the beer chest; they're drinking as they're fishing, I mean really drinking. And they just improvise two guys talking. What they do now is bring in guest celebrities to the boat. In Chicago they had Fred Willard." Reggi won't reveal Donny and Earl's interview subject in St. Louis, but that's part of the surprise for the audience, as well as the performers. -- Paul Friswold
Hearing the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra belt out "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (the theme from 2001) and the theme from Star Wars is great -- hearing them under the stars, next to the hyperboloid of the James S. McDonnell Planetarium, is like preparing for lift-off.
The St. Louis Science Center welcomes the whole sick crew of classical musicians to Forest Park's archery field (just west of the planetarium) for the first of the SLSO's free "Outdoor Overtures" concerts, out among the mosquitoes and hot-dog vendors in the crepuscular haze of the city.
David Amado conducts the orchestra from within its new portable, postmodern band shell. In addition to the uplifting music, expect giveaways and kids' activities, all from 7-8:30 p.m. Call 314-289-4444 or visit www.slso.org for more info. The veterans of free concerts in the great outdoors know the drill: Bring folding chairs, blankets, picnics, bug spray and toys for the kids.
Can we hear Gustav Holst's "Mars, Bringer of War"? How 'bout the theme from Star Trek, narrated by Leo Chears of WSIE-FM, the Jazz Station? Sweet. -- Byron Kerman
License to Kilt
For many, a stroll through the Missouri Botanical Garden (4344 Shaw Boulevard, 314-577-9400) confers a sense of peace, order and wonder at the lack of lawn Madonnae in this South Side Eden. This week, the peace is shattered by the thunderous blasts of the St. Louis Invera'an Pipe Band, a group of kilted bagpipers playing the free weekly Whitaker Music Festival. Reel in the glory and the green at 6 p.m. Bring a lawn chair or blanket, and a picnic supper; there will be food and drink for sale, too. -- Byron Kerman
Musicals depend on the suspension of disbelief; you must believe that gang of toughs will break into song, for instance, or the show falls apart. Allan Robertson's Jouet is a musical that cranks the disbelief-suspension factor way up: Born on a plane, Jouet lives her life in flight, except when she touches down to perform a rock concert with her band. The show is presented at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at the A.E. Hotchner Theatre (on the Washington University campus, Forsyth and Skinker boulevards). Call 314-534-1111. -- Paul Friswold