“I am a very foolish, fond old man,

Fourscore and upward, not an hour more or less;

And, to deal plainly,

I fear I am not in my perfect mind.”

Shakespeare’s old King Lear knows something of madness, so maybe it’s fitting the play bearing his name will be staged this weekend at 289 Derby St., Salem’s newest park. The Bard’s tale, after all, is as much a story of property use and zoning as it is greed and family betrayal.

The small slice of Derby near the water has sparked many a City Council soliloquy over the past few years. The city bought the site, the former home of the Haunted Happenings carnival, for $1.4 million in 2016 before spinning off a sliver to the Salem Redevelopment Authority in the hopes of spurring business expansion nearby. The carnival, which spent last Halloween at the corner of Washington and Federal streets, is currently searching for a home, much like Lear after foolishly attempting to divide his kingdom equally between devious daughters Regan and Goneril. (Lot lines generated animus even in 1600s Britain, it seems.)

Unlike Lear, however, the story of 289 Derby is no tragedy. The roughly $1 million invested in re-imagining the site was money well spent. The park, which opened last month, is a low-key beauty, designed with plenty of community input. With seating, swing seats and a boardwalk that connects to the South River, it’s a great place to soak up the sun, eat lunch or, as is the case this weekend, enjoy some culture.

The Bard Brigade, a Shakespeare troupe based in Lynn, will be offering its version of Lear both Saturday and Sunday. Both shows are free and start at 7 p.m.

The shows are being billed as a test run to see how live public theater works in the space. We’re confident it will be a success, much like the park itself. 

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