Shakespeare & Company pulls 'The Strings of the Heart' for its 2019 season

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LENOX — Four hard-hitting contemporary dramas join three previously announced comedies by William Shakespeare in Shakespeare & Company's 2019 season.

The "Strings of the Heart" season, as it was dubbed by Shakespeare & Company artistic director Allyn Burrows at a Tuesday morning news conference, begins May 23 in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theater with Kenneth Lonergan's "The Waverly Gallery," featuring Annette Miller and Elizabeth Aspenlieder in this Pulitzer Prize finalist drama about a family wrestling with the mental and physical deterioration of the family matriarch. The play is enjoying a hugely successful Broadway run that ends this weekend.

"The Waverly Gallery," which will be directed by Tina Packcr, runs through July 14 in Shakespeare & Company's Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre.

Also on the schedule are:

— Lucy Kirkwood's "The Children," directed by James Warwick, a drama about two retired physicists who have taken shelter in a cottage along the English coast following a devastating tsunami caused by a nuclear plant accident. The cast features Jonathan Epstein, Ariel Bock and Diane Prusha, July 18-Aug. 18, in the Bernstein;

— Suzan-Lori Parks' Pulitzer Prize-winning "Topdog/Underdog," directed by Regge Life, with Thomas Brazzle and Deaon Griffin-Pressley as two brothers, Three Card Monte hustlers, trying to come to terms with who they are and the hand history has dealt them;

— and Donald Margulies' "Time Stands Still," directed by Nicole Ricciardi and featuring Tamara Hickey as a freelance photojournalist who has returned to the United States to recover from injuries sustained from the blast of a roadside bomb during an overseas assignment and who faces a critical choice between her life's work, to which she is deeply committed and the appealing comfort of domestic life, Sept. 13-Oct. 13 in the Bernstein Theatre.

The previously announced Shakespeare roster — "Twelfth Night," "The Merry Wives of Windsor" and "The Taming of the Shrew" — will be joined, Burrows announced, by a special limited run script-in-hand workshop presentation of "Coriolanus," Aug. 21-25, featuring John Douglas Thompson in the title role and Tina Packer as his ambitious mother, Volumnia. Burrows also will be in the cast of only four actors.

"Tina and I had been talking about doing this play," Burrows told a gathering of media, and Shakespeare & Company staffers, artists and board members in the Packer Playhouse lobby. "We heard John also was thinking of doing this play. So we came together.

"It's a play about what happens when you have a leader who clearly isn't fit to lead."

With regard to "Twelfth Night," Burrows, who will be directing this comedy for the first time although he has appeared in five different productions, said the play "is everything you ask for in a Shakespeare play. It runs the gamut."

He described "Twelfth Night," which he is setting in the period between 1958 and 1962, as a reminder "of how human we are. There is a sense of longing, of loss in this play. It's a play that asks who are we? who are our best selves?"

The contemporary plays also ask profound moral questions, Burrows said. The Tony Award-nominated "The Children" examines "the legacy we leave our children and grandchildren."

"Topdog/Underdog" is, Burrows said, "a very impactful play, funny and brutal at the same time." "Time Stands Still" looks at "the people who risk their lives to tell us the truth about the human condition. Margulies takes language that rings true (about the larger world landscape) and weaves it into a personal story."

Indeed, Burrows said at the news conference, the primary connections between Shakespeare's plays on the one hand and contemporary work on the other have to with "the power of the language and the relationships onstage. There is a dialectic, a synthesis, a continuum between Shakespeare on one end and all the other playwrights on the other."

All in all, Burrows said, "our place in the world (as a theater company) is to take in all that is around us; to reflect the larger landscape rather than react to what is going on around us.

"(In a sense)," Burrows said, "we report on the human condition; connect with human beings. (In this season, we are looking to) resonate with the environment at large by pulling the strings of the heart."


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