LENOX — Three Shakespeare plays — two of them on a newly reconfigured main stage, one of them new to the company; two regional premieres; and a mix of contemporary plays by three women and a Pulitzer Prize-winning Cuban male are in the mix for Shakespeare & Company's 2016 season.
It's a season of balance, co-artistic directors Ariel Bock and Jonathan Croy said during a conference call interview — "balance" and "excitement;" a season of new balancing old; a balance of male and female directors; of fresh voices in the theater balancing "the heavyweight champ", Croy said, referring to the company's namesake playwright; a season whose choices, Croy and Bock say, reflect the growing input and perspective of the company's newer, younger members.
The season will offer featured performances by company veterans Jonathan Epstein, Tod Randolph, Annette Miller and Christianna Nelson.
Epstein will be teaming with director Tina Packer for "The Merchant of Venice" (July 1-Aug. 21 in the Tina Packer Playhouse), a play they first worked on together 18 years ago on the outdoor stage at Shakespeare & Company's former home at Edith Wharton's estate, The Mount.
"Jonny and Tina have been talking about working together again, which they haven't done in some time," Bock said. "This play came up. It has depth, maturity, humor, passion and they wanted to take another look at it after 18 years."
Miller will be working with director Daniel Gidron — who directed her in "Golda's Balcony" in 2002 at Shakespeare & Company, — in "Sotto Voce" (Aug.18-Sept. 11 in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre) by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz. Miller and Gidron did a reading of the play last summer in Lenox. The drama focuses on a reclusive, famous novelist who lost her true love aboard an ill-fated ship of Jewish refugees, and a Jewish-Cuban young man who seeks her out.
Randolph, who appeared in last season's "The How and the Why," returns this summer in "Or," (July 23-Sept. 4, Tina Packer Playhouse), Liz Duffy Adams' comedy set on one freewheeling night in the life of Aphra Behn, a Restoration poet, fiction writer, spy and the first English language female playwright. An adaptation of one of Behn's plays, "The Emperor of the Moon," will be performed July 15-Aug. 20 in Shakespeare & Company's Rose Footprint.
Nelson, who performed last summer in "Red Velvet" and "The Comedy of Errors," will be featured this summer in the New England premiere of Lindsey Ferrentino's "Ugly Lies the Bone" (June 16-Aug. 28, Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre). Nelson will play an American soldier who is trying to deal with the scars, physical and emotional, of three tours of duty in Afghanistan.
Actor-writer Stephan Wolfert's own pre- and post-military experiences are the inspiration for "Cry 'Havoc!" which he performed last year at Shakespeare & Company and is bringing back this summer for a slightly longer engagement – Aug. 3-13 in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre. Eric Tucker directs.
The other regional premiere this season is Lauren Gunderson's "The Taming" (May 27-July 30, Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre), a comedy, loosely inspired by "Taming of the Shrew" about female political opposites in a red state versus blue state political tussle.
Next winter, Shakespeare & Company will bring back "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play." And, rather than a fall production, the theater company will offer another Columbus Day weekend gala event, along the lines of last October's one-time-only staged reading of "Richard III" with Hamish Linklater and Lily Rabe.
In addition to "The Merchant of Venice," William Shakespeare will be represented by "Two Gentlemen of Verona" in its first-ever professional production at Shakespeare & Comopany (Aug. 4-Sept. 4, Tina Packer Playhouse) and "Twelfth Night" in a Bare Bard 90-minute version, July 14-Aug. 20, outdoors in The Dell at The Mount.
"Twelfth Night," which Croy also will direct, is one of two productions slated for Shakespeare & Company's Bare Bard Northeast Regional Tour. The other, "Macbeth," will be performed on April 23, Shakespeare's birthday, in the Tina Packer Playhouse as part of "Shakespeare 400," a worldwide celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.
"Two Gentlemen of Verona's" long-awaited debut in the company repertoire is the result of a series of ongoing conversations between Croy and Bock over plays Shakespeare & Company has never done.
" 'Two Gentlemen of Verona' has a bad rep," Croy said, "because of its final three pages.
"Nevertheless, there is no reason it shouldn't be done," said Croy, who will be directing this production.
"It may have a bad rep but it has everything you could want in a comedy. It's a very funny play."
"Two Gentlemen of Verona" will not be the only new element in the Tina Packer Playhouse this season. For the first time ever, audiences will be seated completely around the stage, creating a far more intimate setting in the theater, Bock and Croy said and, they added, a sense of occasion in theatergoing.
"Its fun not only for audiences but also for actors," Bock said.
"I think it's healthy for us to try something new," Croy added; "to shake things up every once in a while."
SEASON AT A GLANCE
TINA PACKER PLAYHOUSE
• "The Merchant of Venice" by William Shakespeare: Directed by Tina Packer. Featuring Jonathan Epstein. July 1-Aug. 21
• "Or," by Liz Duffy Adams: Directed by Alice Reagan. Featuring Tod Randolph. July 23-Sept. 4
• "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" by William Shakespeare: Directed by Jonathan Croy. Aug. 4-Sept. 4
ELAYNE P. BERSNETIN THEATRE
• "The Taming" by Lauren Gunderson (regional premiere): Director to be announced. May 27-July 30
• "Ugly Lies the Bone" by Lindsey Ferrentino (New England premiere): Directed by Daniela Varon. Featuring Christianna Nelson. June 16-Aug. 28
• "Cry 'Havoc!'" Written and performed by Stephan Wolfert: Directed by Eric Tucker. Aug. 3-13
• "Sotto Voce" by Nilo Cruz: Directed by Daniel Gidron. Featuring Annette Miller. Aug. 18-Sept. 11
• "Twelfth Night" by William Shakespeare: Directed by Jonathan Croy. The Dell at The Mount, 2 Plunkett St., Lenox. July 14-Aug. 20
• "The Emperor of the Moon" by Aphra Behn: Directed and adapted by Jenna Ware. Rose Footprint. July 15-Aug. 20
• Multi-show pass packages available beginning Feb. 16
• Single ticket sales begin Feb. 23
Complete information available through the box office by phone at (413) 637-3353 or online at shakespeare.org