By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Jul 19, 2016 at 11:26 AM

Normally, summer is the season when theaters and other performing arts organizations take a breather and regroup before the season begins again, while most of the theater during the hot months takes place in Door County or Spring Green.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the cupboard is bare, as there is still theater to be had this summer in Milwaukee.

The annual effort is led by the plucky folks at Optimist Theatre, who keep dishing up free Shakespeare for a couple of weeks at the marvelous outdoor setting at Kadish Park in Riverwest.

For six years, the quartet of Ron Scot Fry, his wife Susan, Tom Reed and his wife M. L. Cogar have struggled against the odds to stage high level Shakespeare for free each summer. Still, they pull it off, and for its seventh edition this summer, they'll perform "Julius Caesar" for three consecutive weekends beginning Aug. 4.

Optimist has always staged plays with Equity actors in the lead roles and has provided opportunity for many younger actors to take the stage, as well. This year is no exception with a couple of fascinating twists.

Allen D. Edge, a black actor and comedian, will bring a unique twist to Caesar. Two additional casting decisions for two outstanding actors also promise to provoke conversation and deliver characters unlike any we’ve seen before. Angela Iannone will play Brutus, and Laura Gray will play Anthony. Both women are spectacular talents, and I’m eager to see what surprises they have in store as they take on roles of men, roles that are so key to the story of the play. Other leading actors in the play will be Patrick Lawlor as Cassius, Libby Amato as Portia and Laura Monagle as Calpurnia.

Reed and Cogar are directing the play.

Optimist always swings for the fences, staging the kind of magical performances that happen when Shakespeare is performed under the stars. Information on tickets and showtimes is available here. A visit to this production could be a highlight of your August.

If "Julius Caesar" is a reality play, "No Exit" by Jean Paul Sartre is a remarkable non-reality play that will be staged at Dale Gutzman’s Off the Wall Theatre beginning Aug. 11.

The existential play is about three damned souls who are locked into the same room in hell. The ensuing production is a look into the world of truth and lies, both that we tell others and tell ourselves.

The play, which has long received incredible critical acclaim, is the source for the famed Sartre quote: "Hell is other people"

The play will also mark the farewell performance for Patrick McCann, who has been an Off the Wall favorite and has been admitted to the prestigious Bristol Old Vic theater school in England.

Information on tickets and showtimes is available here.

Also not to be forgotten is the Milwaukee Chamber Theater, which always seems to lead off each new season with an early production; this year, it's the Aug. 8 opening of "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike," the winner of the 2013 Tony for Best Play.

The notes from Chamber describe the play this way:

"Vanya and his adopted sister, Sonia, are living out their middle age in an old farmhouse in Bucks County, PA, after years of caring for their ailing, Chekhov-loving parents. But their quietly tedious existence changes dramatically once their movie-star sister, Masha, swoops in with her twenty-something boy toy, Spike, for a weekend of wild costume parties, voodoo dolls and family feuds. In its own deliciously madcap way, Durang's Tony Award-winning play not only offers endlessly inventive comic twists, but some keen insights into the absurdities, challenges and agonies of twenty-first-century life as well."

Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.