About Shakespeare and Company
Shakespeare and Company, a presence in Lenox since its foundation in 1978 by Tina Packer and Kristen Linklater, has undergone some seismic challenges in recent years, and there has at times been some concern about its future, but it continues to soldier on with its richly and solidly matured education programs and performances that seem to only to get better and better. Now, following a brilliant season (2016) and looking forward to what promises to be another equally exciting program this summer, all the upheavals seem basically of academic interest, and I’ll let you wait until someone publishes a history of this company, which wears its laurels so lightly that some, I believe, underestimate just how important it is, not only for the history of Shakespeare performance in this country, but anywhere.
I mention the upheavals only to raise a contrasting background for the entrance of Shakespeare and Company’s new Artistic Director, Allyn Burrows, who has not only deep roots in the Company, since he became a regular early in his career, but also a subtle and profound sense of how theater works, as well as a practical knack for pulling it off on stage. Shakespeare and Company would probably not have weathered its recent storms, if it weren’t comprised of such a passionate and dedicated body of actors, staff, board members, and audiences. In the years I’ve been in the Berkshires there has never been a cancelled or truncated season. Much love, tender and tough, has kept it afloat over the years…and yes, we’ll have The Tempest this summer!
Actor Training and Education
But Shakespeare and Company isn’t just about the lively Shakespearean and contemporary shows locals and visitors enjoy summer after summer, but also the year-round educational programs which have offered professionals, college-age aspirants, high school students, and other young people unique opportunities to enter the field or develop their artistry. The educational activities fall into two separate programs, Actor Training, under the direction of Dennis Krausnick, for adults and college-age people with a professional career in mind, and Education, under the direction of Kevin G. Coleman, which provides learning opportunities for teenagers and children. Our podcast interview will go into this as well as the upcoming productions, and that is timely, since, as Allyn Burrows observes, the current threat to the NEA will hurt young people, since the funds S & Co. receives go to the educational programs. As the father of a son who went to high school in the Berkshires, I am grateful for the work S & Co. did at Mount Greylock, the fine Macbeth I saw, and the passion for theater it imparted to the students, as much those who were in the audience and those who were on stage. Some of those young people, now in their mid-twenties, are performing. Others have taken a place in the audience, and there’s every likelihood they’ll be attending performances and supporting theater for the rest of their lives—remembering their first and only begetter, I hope, Shakespeare and Company.
Allyn Burrows has come back to Shakespeare and Company, where he began to appear summer after summer from the beginning of his career, after a decade as director of the Actors’ Shakespeare Project in Boston, but he comes not only as the seasoned administrator of a successful regional company, but as an actor and director as well—in fact primarily so. You will appreciate the muscular unity among these three essential roles in theater. He is not the only member of the company who has taken on directing, acting, and management to boot, reincarnating the great actor-managers of nineteenth-century London. I don’t intend this as hyperbolic flattery, but to point out the continuity between nineteenth century practices and what we do in the Berkshires today…then all the way back to Burbage.
Last summer’s Merchant of Venice, directed by Tina Packer, will remain in my memory as one of the most trenchant and vivid Shakespeare productions I have seen, in Lenox or anywhere. The Tina Packer Playhouse, the mainstage, was resystematized for performances fully in the round, and this seemed to liberate the actors, provide space flexible enough for a variety of free-form situations, built around simple props, and improve the acoustics significantly. Every line was perfectly clear, except for those that were intended to be garbled, viz. the effusions of Portia’s suitors from Morocco and Aragon, most amusingly played by Erick Avari. The concept of the production was spot-on, contrasting the open multiculturalism of Venice, its ties throughout the Mediterranean, with the intense antipathy held by the local Christians towards the Jews. Antonio, in a multi-faceted performance by John Hadden, while remaining sympathetic, rages with racist hatred for the man is is compelled to borrow from. Jonathan Epstein underplayed Shylock to powerful effect, showing him as a busy, even harried, man of business, doing his best to hold his own between the two communities. This gave him plenty of room to place his character’s most telling utterances exactly where he wanted on the psycho-emotional scale, in the tenser situations. Tamara Hickey, who will return this year as Imogen and Miranda, gave the most convincing Portia I have seen, as a young woman frustrated to bursts of fury by her father’s arbitrary constraints regarding her marriage. This angry, strong Portia seems entirely capable of pulling off her very difficult deception. Not only must she argue like a legal scholar, she must gauge the effect of her arguments and manipulate Shylock, the Duke, Antonio, and Bassanio for a happy outcome, and a man’s life depends on it. Kate Abbruzzese was equally memorable as an unhappy, potentially tragic Jessica. And I mustn’t forget the skinhead neo-Nazi Graziano whom Jason Asprey brought to life with such ferocity, but with sufficient wit to bring us into the character without quite hating him. The tension never let up in this production, which never flinched in revealing the dark sides of all the characters.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona fared equally well in the round, also enhanced by Kate Abbruzzese’s touching performance as the unfortunate Julia. Director Jonathan Croy brought off the downbeat ending, the only convincing one, to perfection.
This season Shakespeare and Company will offer first and foremost Cymbeline, a late play, first produced some time before autumn 1610, directly preceding The Tempest, which premiered the following year. Cymbeline is the strangest of all Shakespeare’s plays. It rambles in a novelistic way, but in a freer, less stereotyped manner than Pericles, the narrative and design of which stems from Shakespeare’s collaborator, George Wilkins, following a literary tradition going back to antiquity. In Cymbeline, Shakespeare may have wanted to improve on Pericles by giving it a freer, more organic, and less tidy form. Wilkins trained his episodic romance to a Gowerian trellis. Cymbeline is indeed a messy piece of work, but I love it all the more for that. Whenever I’ve read or seen it, I’ve found something deeply moving and also satisfying in its expansiveness and variety. The Winter’s Tale, once considered flawed, has become really rather popular on stage in recent years. Perhaps it will be Cymbeline‘s turn next. As many puzzles and mysteries as Cymbeline casts in our faces, try, when you see it, simply releasing yourself into the labyrinthine dealings of Early Britain with Rome. Tina Packer will direct. This remains the only Shakespearen peak she hasn’t yet climbed. We can expect her deep Shakespearen wisdom, love of language, and sensitive psychological insight to make this extraordinary. I have hopes that it will be the best Cymbeline yet—in my experience, which amounts to a Stratford production long ago and Shakespeare in the Park in the 1990s.
The Tempest speaks for itself. It will be performed out of doors by the same cast as Cymbeline under Allyn Burrows’ direction. In the interview you will hear about his recent production in Boston with a female Prospero and the many differences with the upcoming one, less than a year later.
With A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare and Company will return to The Mount, where they performed between 1978 and 2000.
As emerges in our conversation, contemporary and modern plays will be plentiful and substantial. Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel is surely one of the classics of recent dramas. I can’t think of any other that operates so subtly on different levels, both theatrically and psychologically, offering a director various radical alternatives in production. Every character is vivid and complex, providing the entire cast with opportunities to create a milestone in their careers.
In God of Carnage, a major play by Yasmina Reza, Mr. Burrows himself will perform, along with company veterans Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Jonathan Croy, and Kristin Wold.
In the past, Dennis Krausnick has delighted audiences with his adaptations of works by Edith Wharton. This year the company will bring back one of the favorites, “Roman Fever,” with a new work, “The Fullness of Life”.
Allyn Burrows’ instincts lean decisively towards the spirit of experimentation which has inspired the work of Shakespeare and Company since the beginning. The program, Storytellers and Songwriters, will bring the familiar theatrical component together with individual musicians and composers, with a dramatic beginning transitioning into a musical statement of the theme, based on a specific dramatic work in some, for example, Theresa Rebeck’s Bad Dates, or on a literary concept, as in Joan Ackermann’ T.S. Eliot and His Love of Shakespeare, and Tina Packer’s already much-acclaimed Women of Will.
Shakespeare & Company’s 2017 Season:
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Tina Packer
Cast: Jason Asprey, Thomas Brazzle, Jonathan Epstein, Nigel Gore, Deaon Griffin-Pressley, Tamara Hickey, Ella Loudon, Josh Aaron McCabe, and Bella Merlin
July 04 – August 6, 2017
Press Opening: Saturday July 8, 7:30pm in the Tina Packer Playhouse
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Allyn Burrows
Cast: Jason Asprey, Thomas Brazzle, Nigel Gore, Deaon Griffin-Pressley, Tamara Hickey, Ella Loudon, Josh Aaron McCabe, Bella Merlin, and Mark Zeisler
August 10 – September 03, 2017
Press Opening: Sunday, August 13, 5:30pm in the Roman Garden Theatre
by Amy Herzog
Directed by Nicole Ricciardi
Cast: Gregory Boover, Emma Geer, Zoë Laiz, and Annette Miller
May 25 – July 16, 2017
Press Opening: Sunday, May 28, 3:00pm in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre
by Lynn Nottage
Directed by Daniela Varon
Cast: MaConnia Chesser, Lee Edward Colston II, Nehassaiu deGannes, Christianna Nelson, Tommy Schrider, and Whitney White
June 20 – August 13, 2017
Press Opening: Saturday, July 22, 7:30pm in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre
Edith Wharton Comedies: “Roman Fever” and “The Fullness of Life”
by Edith Wharton
adapted by Dennis Krausnick
Directed by Normi Noel
Cast: David Joseph, Corinna May, and Diane Prusha
August 17 – September 10, 2017
Press Opening: Sunday, August 20, 3:00pm in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Jonathan Croy
Cast: David Bertoldi, Caroline Calkins, Tim Dowd, Lori Evans, Rory Hammond, Luke Haskell, Kate Kenney, Mairead Kohler, Caitlin Kraft, Madeleine Rose Maggio, Devante Owens, Thomas Randle, Thomas Reynolds, Leon Schwendener, and Dara Silverman
July 11 – August 19, 2017
Press Opening: Thursday, July 13, 6pm performed at The Dell-Outdoors at the Mount
God of Carnage
by Yasmina Reza
translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Regge Life
Cast: Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Allyn Burrows, Jonathan Croy, and Kristin Wold
September 14 – October 8, 2017
Storytellers and Songwriters
Weekends August 11 – 26, 2017 in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre
by David Hare
featuring Jonathan Epstein,
Friday, August 11, 8:30pm in the Tina Packer Playhouse
T.S. Eliot and His Love of Shakespeare
by Joan Ackermann
featuring Allyn Burrows with musical guest Michi Wiancko
Saturday, August 12, 8:30pm in the Tina Packer Playhouse
Door of No Return
written and performed by Nehassaiu deGannes
Friday, August 18, 8:30pm in the Tina Packer Playhouse
In Light of Jane
by Joan Ackermann
featuring Tod Randolph with musical guest Kris Delmhorst
Saturday, August 19, 8:30pm in the Tina Packer Playhouse
by Theresa Rebeck
featuring Elizabeth Aspenlieder with Vikki True
Sunday, August 20, 8:30pm in the Tina Packer Playhouse
Women of Will
written and performed by Tina Packer with special guest Nigel Gore
Friday, August 25, 8:30pm in the Tina Packer Playhouse
Travels with a Masked Man
written and performed by John Hadden with musical guest Bobby Sweet
Saturday, August 26, 8:30pm in the Tina Packer Playhouse