Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 26, 2017

Plays for All Seasons

Shakespeare & Company celebrates 40 years
by Joan Mento
Introduction by Shera Cohen

"In the Spotlight" asked Joan Mento, former Bravo writer and retired college professor of English, Theatre, and Shakespeare, to preview Shakespeare & Company’s summer season which includes three pieces by The Bard.

I must admit that even though my BA in college was English, and I had read many of Shakespeare’s plays, it was always so helpful to have Joan available at Shakes & Co. to “translate” some of the more difficult Histories, especially. It is also a bit humbling to watch the kids in the audience, enthralled by what they see and laughing much sooner than I do at the 16th century jokes. These children certainly don’t “get” every word, or even every paragraph. But, they “get” the play. They’re not afraid of Shakespeare.

If you have ever been hesitant about seeing a play by Shakespeare because you do not understand every word, put your fear aside. Instead, go to Shakespeare & Company where their creative actors and directors make the language come alive, understandable for both young, and old. If you are still wary, start with a comedy. They are masters of physical comedy while never diminishing the power of the poetic lines. The Shakespearean plays featured this summer are “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Tempest,” and “Cymbeline.”

“Midsummer,” a comedy, will be performed in the Dell at the Mount, Shakespeare & Company’s former home. It is the Company’s signature piece first performed there when the theatrical group started in 1978. Their last outdoor main stage play of “Midsummer” (on a platform stage in the wooded area behind Edith Wharton’s house at the Mount) was performed in 2001 when they were between their old home and their new Lenox property a mile down the road. Outdoors is the natural setting for this play as the pair of young lovers romp through woods inhabited by the fairies. In the 2001 night production, classic were the comic scenes of the workmen practicing a serious play they want to put on for the Dukes wedding. Their sight gags and physical miming proved hilarious. The ending with Mendelssohn’s music, the colored lights, and gorgeous costumes enhanced the wedding scene. We look forward to seeing what this season’s “Midsummer” will do.

Like all of Shakespeare’s four romances, “The Tempest” and “Cymbeline” deal with love and loss, myth and immortality, and reconciliation scenes at the end. It will be interesting to see the director’s concept of this season’s “Tempest. “ The 2012 season featured an innovative “Tempest. “ Instead of the usual male lead of Prospero, Olympia Dukakis played the role as Prospera. Here the director envisioned a feminist (goddess) approach- representing a matriarchal reign in mythical history.

Perhaps the most challenging play this season will be “Cymbeline.”
I only remember seeing one production of it by Shakespeare & Company. This production was done in the early 1990s by mostly younger actors at Oxford Court, a small outdoor stage space at the Mount when the Company was housed there. Critics often debate whether to categorize the play a tragic-comedy, or problem play, or fairy tale (complete with evil stepmother). Because of its many characters, plot lines, locations, and styles, “Cymbeline” has proved a challenge to perform. So, it will be fascinating to see how the play comes to life in clear dialogue and stage action (as well as some comic undertones) under the capable and creative directorship of Tina Packer, founder of Shakespeare & Company.

So do not be hesitant, even if you are a novice to Shakespeare, to come and enjoy Shakespeare & Company’s 2017 Summer Season.

Cymbeline runs July 4 – August 6.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes the stage July 11 – August 19.
The Tempest closes the season August 10 – September 3.

All Shakespeare & Company’s stages are located in Lenox, MA.
For information call the box office at 413-637-3353 or visit