Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 3, 2008

3 Plays/1 Stage

Shakespeare & Co., Lenox
through August 31
By Shera Cohen

Add it up: 2 Shakespeare plays (one deadly serious and the other almost deadly comedy) + 1 by someone else + 3 skilled directors (Tina Packer, Kevin Coleman, Tony Simotes) + dozens of exceptional actors (among them are Shakes & Co. “old timers” Jason Asprey, Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Jonathan Croy, Michael Hammond, Annette Miller, Dennis Krausnick) = a fabulous summer season at Shakes & Co.

“Othello,” directed by Shakes & Co. alum, teacher, fight captain Tony Simotes, offers a triumvirate of talent. Simotes’ stages his actors in exactly the right positions with voices and demeanor to become their characters. John Douglas Thompson (Othello) shines as the tortured man, triumphant in battle on the field yet failing himself and those he loves. This is the perfect role for Thompson. Michael Hammond shows his audience every minutia of what makes his evil, conniving Iago tick. Hammond is not shy in his in-your-face performance, which is exactly what is called for in this role.

“All’s Well That Ends Well” might be called a musical, or at least that is the case with this version. Called “the house band,” nine actors accompany singer/interlocutor Nigel Gore regularly liven up the stage with original rock music composed by Shakes & Co.’s own Bill Barclay. The songs link the scenes together in this feminist and perhaps atypical Bard play.

Charles Morey’s “The Ladies Man” (based on the work of Geydeau) treats the audience to non-stop comedy in the shape of traditional French farce. In the course of the show, a total of 14 doors and entries permit the cast comings and goings at such rapid speed nearly faster than the eye can see. One can only imagine the bumping and bruising that occurs backstage. The extremely talented ensemble (many from last year’s successful “Rough Crossing”) must be having the time of their lives, which is certainly contagious to the audience.

Actually, there’s more at Shakes & Co., and it’s the free stuff; i.e. the very funny premiere of “The Mad Pirate and the Mermaid,” a terrific lecture series, pre-show mini-plays, and more.