Look for 'fun, with teeth' this summer at Shakespeare & Company

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LENOX — The strings of the heart — and the mind as well — are being plucked in a variety of ways this summer at Shakespeare & Company.

Eight plays — four by Shakespeare; four by contemporary playwrights — in four theaters, two of them outdoors, over 21 weeks. It all begins May 23 in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre with Kenneth Lonergan's "The Waverly Gallery" and ends Oct. 13 with the final performance of Donald Margulies' "Time Stands Still." A whole other season is set for late fall and winter.

Shakespeare & Company's 2019 summer season finds the Bard in a comedically expansive mood with "Twelfth Night," "The Taming of the Shrew" and "The Merry Wives of Windsor." The fourth Shakespeare play, "Coriolanus," is a dark, tumultuous political drama that will have a script-in-hand-workshop presentation over only five days near the end of August.

The contemporary plays — Kenneth Lonergan's Pulitzer Prize finalist, "The Waverly Gallery"; Lucy Kirkwood's "The Children"; Suzan-Lori Parks' Pulitzer Prize-winning "Topdog/Underdog"; and Donald Margulies' "Time Stands Still" — run a gamut of issues from art, aging and familial responsibilities to climate; race and racial identity in America; and war, journalism, truth and the choices we make in our lives.

With the exception of the just-for-fun "Merry Wives," the Shakespeare comedies are not without point of view. Director Kelly Galvin's outdoor production of "Shrew" in The Dell at The Mount, with its Elizabethan view of male-female interaction, is being designed for the #MeToo era. "Twelfth Night," which Shakespeare & Company artistic director Allyn Burrows is directing, is being set in 1959, "right at the end of the '50s, right before the start of the explosive '60s. There was a whole different level of personalities then.

"There is so much yin and yang in this play; so much yin and yang in that period, the late '50s."

"'Merry Wives' is just pure fun," Burrows said. "It's called 'Merry Wives' but it's really about the comeuppance of a con man."

Comeuppance has devastating consequences in "Coriolanus," a kind of let's-give-it-a-reading-and-see-what-we've-got project that came together is a result of coincident mutual interests. The roiling drama is about the ascension to power of an arrogant, ambitious general who is successful on the battlefield but proves tragically inept as the leader of a nation.

"(Overall), the Shakespeares are part of our long arc," Burrows said during a recent morning interview in his office in the Miller Building on Shakespeare & Company's 70 Kemble St. campus. "The contemporary plays are short sprints."

Two of the plays — "The Waverly Gallery and "The Children" — are being produced here on the heels of recently completed Broadway runs. Burrows said he was surprised, and pleased, that he was given the rights for these two plays, especially "Waverly Gallery," so soon.

"A lot of people missed the [Tony Award-nominated] revival of 'Waverly Gallery' on Broadway," Burrows said. "Others have told me they saw the Broadway production and are eager to see ours."

Burrows said he felt it was important to produce "Time Stands Still" in tribute to journalists worldwide who are being killed in the line of work, particularly in war zones.

"Topdog/Underdog," about two brothers, Lincoln and Booth, skilled Three Card Monte hustlers, who are struggling with their identities as black men in America, brings to the Berkshires one of the more challenging voices in American theater — Suzan-Lori Parks.

"She's a red-hot playwright right now," Burrows said. "What she writes about is important. She makes us look at ourselves through the lens of this play. I'm curious to see how this play lands with our audience."

Burrows readily acknowledges that assembling this season was a balancing act. "There was so much sorting out to do in my first two seasons; rearranging things," he said.

He's trying to find, he said, a "comfort level in terms of what we know and what we don't know, especially when it comes to where things might land with our audience."

And while his mind is on the present, Burrows spends time looking ahead.

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"Planning a few seasons out would give us some stability," Burrows said. "You do want to leave yourself open to how to plan programming in relation to the larger environment."

He would love, he said, to reach a point at which Shakespeare & Company, known for its actor training workshops and intensives, could bring playwrights to Lenox to develop work that eventually would premiere in one of Shakespeare & Company's theaters.

Burrows feels keen responsibility to his staff, his artists, his audience. especially at a time in which, Burrows said, there are so many competing interests.

"We're not doing this in a vacuum," he said. "We have to have an audience.

"People just want a good night out. People I know in the community want to see what we're up to and they also want good storytelling. And the storytelling we do, in our small way, in this corner of the world, is all about who we want to be as people."

With the opening of the season only two weeks away, Burrows said he is excited about the mix that is this season's storytelling; the mix that will pluck the strings of the heart.

"Its fun, with teeth."

Season at a glance

May 23-July 14: "The Waverly Gallery" by Kenneth Lonergan. Directed by Tina Packer. Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre

July 2-Aug. 4: "Twelfth Night" by William Shakespeare. Directed by Allyn Burrows. Tina Packer Playhouse

July 9-Aug. 17: "The Taming of the Shrew" by William Shakespeare. Directed by Kelly Galvin. The Dell at The Mount (Edith Wharton's home)

July 18-Aug. 18: "The Children" by Lucy Kirkwood. Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre

Aug. 6-Sept. 1: "The Merry Wives of Windsor" by William Shakespeare. Directed by Kevin Coleman. Roman Garden Theatre

Aug. 13-Sept. 6: "Topdog/Underdog" by Suzan-Lori Parks. Directed by Regge Life. Tina Packer Playhouse

Aug. 21-25: "Coriolanus" by William Shakespeare. Directed by Daniela Varon. Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre

Sept. 13-Oct. 13: "Time Stands Still" by Donald Margulies. Directed by Nicole Ricciardi. Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre

Complete ticket information available online at shakespeare.org; by phone at (413) 637-3353; or in person at Shakespeare & Company box office onsite at 70 Kemble St., Lenox


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