On Stage: A summer of Shakespeare

  • Cast members in the Young Shakespeare Players production of “Romeo and Juliet last year. The young company will perform at Shea Theater in Turners Falls again this summer. Recorder file photo

  • Jennifer Abeles

For The Recorder
Wednesday, June 21, 2017

“Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance: that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature. For anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.”

Thus, Hamlet instructs his celebrated actors in their art, which holds “the mirror up to nature.” In gazing at Shakespeare’s plays, we gaze into a mirror and more clearly see ourselves.

“Summer stage” and “Shakespeare” go together like peanut butter and jelly, or — if you’re Elvis — peanut butter and banana. I want to go into further detail about some of these productions in future columns, but whether you’re a bonafide Bardolater or someone who uses Shakespeare as an excuse to eat brie on a blanket under the summer stars, here’s a brief round-up of where to satisfy your appetite for Shakespeare this summer.

1. Closest to home: Hampshire Shakespeare Company at the gorgeous Massachusetts Renaissance Center in Amherst is putting on “Hamlet” (June 22, 24, 30, July 2, 13, 15, 21, 23. Aug. 3 and 5 — all at 7:30), as well as Tom Stoppard’s hilarious redux of that melancholy play, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” (June 23, 25, 29, July 1, 14, 16, 20, 22, Aug. 4 and 6 — all at 7).

2. Most late-romance concentrated: Worcester Shakespeare Company is producing “Antony and Cleopatra” and “Coriolanus” throughout July and August. Both of these plays are categorized as late romances, which means they were written after Shakespeare’s dark night of the soul as evidenced in his great tragedies — “Hamlet,” “King Lear,” “Macbeth,” and “Othello.” While there remain tragic elements in both of these plays, the overall tone is elevated through the greatness of the characters. For example, Antony and Cleopatra both die at the end (spoiler alert?), but only after delivering some of the most beautiful love poetry ever written and showing us the profound complexities of human love.

3. Classic free summer theater: Commonwealth Shakespeare Company is offering “Romeo and Juliet” on the Boston Common from July 19 through Aug. 6.

4. An excuse to get into the Berkshires: Shakespeare and Company has a truly magical line-up, offering “Cymbeline,” “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “The Tempest,” amongst other worthy non-Shakespeare plays. We are incredibly fortunate to have this theater company so relatively close, and a drive up to the Berkshires to see one of these world-class productions is highly recommended. I hope to provide a fuller account of their season in a forthcoming column.

While “Midsummer” and “The Tempest” are more common summer-theater fare, “Cymbeline” is a rarer production, another late romance set in ancient Britain. Again, although you may find cause for tears in this play, it is also contains gorgeous poetry, the winning theme of truth’s triumph over deception, and a strong female protagonist in the character of Imogene.

5. Planning ahead: Our own Young Shakespeare Players East are preparing “Henry IV” for their fall production. “Henry IV” is the 2nd play in this historical tetralogy, following “Richard II,” which the Young Players performed last fall. For the energy of both its exciting plot and fascinating characters — this is where we meet beloved Falstaff for the first time — this play has always been a favorite of audiences from Shakespeare’s time right into our present day.

6. Planning even further ahead: The Actors’ Shakespeare Project in Somerville will be producing “Julius Caesar” (Nov. 15 through Dec. 17), “Richard III” (Feb. 7 through March 11, 2018) and “Much Ado About Nothing” (April 11 through May 6, 2018). From what I can gather, this theater company tends to experiment and take risks, and I am excited to see their productions for myself.

Is that enough Shakespeare for you? Or is there never enough? “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale/Her infinite variety,” Shakespeare wrote of Cleopatra, but we could say the same of his corpus. These plays cycle round from season to season, century to century, and somehow we never tire of them. New messages emerge from each production, every actor’s handling of a given role, sharpening our perceptions of our individual experience against the whetstone of Shakespeare’s human comedy.

Speaking of “Perception,” I want to remind you of a suggestion I made in my last column: “Finally, in the spirit of community-created work, I’d like to suggest an experiment for an upcoming column. Share with me your perceptions about the upcoming dance production “Perception.” Eggtooth Productions is generously offering free tickets ($20 value) to anyone who agrees to write an 100-200 word description of their experience of the show. I will take all of your perceptions, and piece them into a forthcoming column for publication, giving all participants credit. There are 20 free tickets available so email me at the address below to sign on.”

Tickets remain! Email me!

Jenny Terpsichore Abeles is a Greenfield-based writer and educator. She welcomes your feedback at jennifer.abeles@gmail.com