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Shakespeare Birthday Bash

Shakespeare Birthday Bash

by KATHRYN BOUGHTON

Shakespeare was notoriously bounteous in his use of the language. His characters explored their feelings and motives in lengthy soliloquies and verbal tit-for-tat and his plays are known to stretch on for hours. But now Shakespeare & Company is staging a great family event to introduce children too young to sit through a full production to the Bard’s voice.

In honor of Shakespeare’s 454th birthday on April 2ist (and coincidentally, his death date in 1616) Shakespeare & Company's will stage a 90-minute version of his comedy, A Midsummer Night's Dream this Saturday. The production will be performed by the Northeast Regional Tour of Shakespeare cast and will be staged at 7PM in the Tina Packer Playhouse for Shakespeare's Birthday Bash. The performance will be followed by a reception with the artists and the Bard’s birthday cake.

“It’s really a lot of fun,” said Artistic Director Allyn Burrows.

The family-friendly production, which features a seven-member cast in multiple roles, emphasizes Shakespeare’s language, dramatic action and the vital relationship between the actors and the audience.

Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students and can be purchased online at www.shakespeare.org or by calling the box office at 413-637-3353. Shakespeare & Company is located at 70 Kemble Street in Lenox.

Burrows, who has been with Shakespeare & Company for nearly two decades, first as an actor and for the past two years as artistic director, said the 2018 season is well underway although the first production will not be staged until May 24 when Morning After Grace is produced in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre for its New England premiere. The play runs through July 15. An unconventional new comedy, it tells the tale of how Angus and Abigail fall into each others’ lives after meeting at a funeral.

“You start a year out to plan a season,” said Burrows. “it takes a whole year for things to come together.”

Shakespeare & Company not only celebrates the greatest playwright of all times, it also explores new works by contemporary writers. Burrows said a number of criteria are used in making the contemporary selections.

“They have to be good plays,” he said, with a laugh. “Sometimes you want to be bold but they have to land somewhere on the spectrum between entertainment and saying something meaningful. And then, we have to be able to produce them sensibly, with relatively small casts because the Shakespeare productions often require a much larger crew.”

Morning After Grace, written by Carey Crim, fits that bill. It shares the summer schedule with Shakespeare’s MacBeth, which will be on stage from July 3rd-August 5th in the Tina Packer Playhouse, directed by Melia Bensussen. The dark drama about murder’s aftermath has gripped audiences for more than 400 years and has lost none of its strength.

Following Morning After Grace on the Bernstein stage will be Creditors by Swedish playwright August Strindberg (adapted by David Grieg). Directed by Nicole Ricciardi, the production will run from July 19th through August 12th.

Written in 1888, the tragicomedy is seen as one of Strindberg’s most powerful plays. The plot of the three-person play deals with the complex mind-games of a husband, wife and purported friend who delights in twisting the weak and malleable mind of the husband. In this psychological chess match, the cost of love runs deep.

The Company moves outdoors for its next two productions, both by Shakespeare: Love’s Labor’s Lost (July 10th-August 18th) and As You Like It (August 9th-September 2nd).

Love’s Labor’s Lost is one of Shakespeare’s early comedies, believed to have been written in the mid-1590s for a performance at the Inns of Court before Queen Elizabeth I. It follows the King of Navarre and his three companions as they attempt to swear off the company of women for three years of study and fasting. Their subsequent infatuation with the Princess of France and her ladies makes them forsworn.

Love’s Labor’s Lost is full of witty wordplay, hilarious mishaps, and riotous comedy.

The family-friendly production, directed by Kelly Galvin, will be staged outdoors at The Dell at the Mount, Edith Wharton’s Home.

As You Like It will be directed by Burrows, himself, at the Roman Garden Theatre, inaugurated in 2017 for Shakespeare & Company's production of The Tempest. Located adjacent to the Tina Packer Playhouse, the Roman Garden Theatre is an intimate outdoor performance space with comfortable bench and chair seating.

The Roman Garden was one of the proudest achievements of Burrows’ first year. Patrons are encouraged to bring picnics to enjoy during performances. “And the amazing things is, the bugs don’t show up until after the performances,” he said. “We bought all this bug spray and never had to use it.”

Burrows’ terms As You Like It “a pastoral comedy,” perfect for the outdoors setting. Believed to have been written in 1599 and first published in the First Folio of Shakespeare’s works in 1623, the play follows its heroine, Rosalind, as she flees persecution in her uncle’s court, accompanied by her cousin, Celia, to find safety and, eventually, love, in the Forest of Arden. In the forest, they encounter a variety of memorable characters, notably the melancholy traveler, Jaques, who speaks many of Shakespeare's most famous speeches.

Heisenberg by Tony-Award winning English playwright Simon Stephens opened in New York City in 2015. It comes to Shakespeare and Company from August 11th to September 2nd and will be directed by founding artistic director Tina Packer in her namesake theater. It tells the tale of Georgie Burns, a 42-year-old woman, and Alex Priest, a 75-year-old butcher, who meet in a London railway station. They begin a relationship and eventually travel to New Jersey to search for Georgie's missing son.

Mothers and Sons by Tony Award-winning Terrence McNally, directed by James Warwick, looks at another kind of relationship—this time between a grieving mother and her son’s former partner. It will be on the Bernstein stage from August 16th through September 9th. The play takes place 20 years after the events in McNally's 1990 television play Andre's Mother. Katharine Gerard lost her son to AIDS 20 years ago and now she visits her son's former partner, Cal, who has married Will and the two attempt to reconcile.

HIR by Taylor Mac, directed by Alice Reagan, closes the season in the Bernstein Theatre September 13th through October 7th. HIR is a dark comedy that tells the story of a son coming back from the military to find his family turned completely upside down. Mac, exploring what is being ignored in the world, confronts social expectations head on in this tale of progressive responsibility.

For more information on our summer performance season, or year-round programming, call the Box Office at 413-637-3353 or click on the link below.

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