In the midst of winter, Shakespeare & Company beckons audiences

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LENOX — Two Pulitzer Prize-winning writers, playwright Sam Shepard (drama, 1979) and novelist Edith Wharton (fiction, 1921), will be rubbing shoulders this weekend in the Berkshires — artistically speaking, that is.

Shepard's Pulitzer Prize play, "Buried Child," about a family that defines "dysfunctional," will be given a staged reading 7 p.m. Saturday at Shakespeare & Company's Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre. Wharton's newly discovered play, "The Shadow of a Doubt," follows Sunday afternoon at 1.

They're two of the five plays in Shakespeare & Company's Winter Studio Festival of Plays that includes readings of work by Carson Kreitzer, Liz Duffy Adams and Hamish Linklater, performed by a roster of actors that includes, among others, Ariel Bock, Diane Prusha, Corinna May, David Joseph, Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Kristin Wold, Rylan Morsbach, Gregory Boover, Jonathan Croy, Rory Hammond, Glenn Barrett, Dave Demke, Tamara Hickey and Malcolm Ingram.

Shakespeare & Company artistic director Allyn Burrows, Charles Tower, Normi Noel, Hamish Linklater and Nela Wagman are directing.

The plays, Burrows said, run a gamut of issues from climate change to the drug scourge, extremism, identity and euthanasia. But in a company devoted to a master of words, the plays in the Winter Studio Festival have as much to do with language as with ideas, Burrows suggested.

It's only natural that Wharton's only play should have a reading at Shakespeare & Company, whose home for decades was Wharton's home, The Mount, just down the road from Shakespeare & Company's 70 Kemble St. campus.

"It;s been said the [13-character] play was in production but was never performed," Burrows said in an interview over a cup of French press-brewed coffee in his office in the Miller Building, just inside the entrance to the Shakespeare & Company complex.

"For us, it's an investigation into a form," Burrows said. "I actually think she was a little out of her depth here. She was such a master of the narrative form."

With Shepard's death last year, Burrows said he wanted to honor the playwright-actor.

"It seemed to me that we're in such an identity crisis in America right now," Burrows said. "We need to hear his language.

"He writes about victims and his challenge [for us] is to uphold the truth."

In "Wonders of the Invisible World," Liz Duffy Adams picks up Abigail Williams 10 years after disappearing from Salem following the witch trials.

If Duffy Adams' name sounds familiar, in all likelihood it's because her play, "Or ...," was produced at Shakespeare & Company in the 2016 season.

"Her writing is exquisite," Burrows said.

Burrows acknowledges that his choice of Carson Kreitzer's climate change play, "Timebomb," is "quirky. He's right out there."

Linklater's "Whirligig," a play that focuses on what Burrows characterizes as "the drug scourge right on our doorstep in the Berkshires," brings a native son back to Shakespeare & Company — child of Shakespeare & Company co-founder Kristin Linklater.

"From the time he was 12, you could see his unmistakable taolnt," Burrows said of the young actor who is fashioning quite a career on stage, television and film

Time was the Studio Festival of Plays was a whirlwind week at the tail end of Shakespeare & Company's regular summer season; a dizzying week-long burst of play readings, morning 'til night, of pet projects by company members, some of which held the potential of being given full productions in some future season.

"Everyone was exhausted by then," Burrows said, which is perhaps the major reason why the Studio Festival disappeared.

Burrows launched the Winter Studio Festival last year with the idea of giving theatergoers a reason to come out and see a play at a forbidding time of year. The selections are all his and none of the plays is a candidate for production. The idea, says Burrows, is not only to entertain but to provoke; to stimulate thought and discussion.

"I want people to be stirred, be moved; to reflect," Burrows says. "I want people to laugh. I want to take their breath away."

To that end, each of the readings will be followed by a discussion, "kind of a meeting of the minds," Burrows says, "all the actors and audiences.

"People had things to say," Burrows said of last year's discussions. "These conversations were worth staying for."

He paused for a moment

"There are a lot of moving parts," he said of the weekend event, "but we think it's worth it."


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