To Ben Jonson, "gentle Shakespeare" was "not of an age, but for all time." And indeed, the Swan of Avon is always in production somewhere, not just in the summertime festivals but on stages year-round. A case in point—three, maybe four cases, really—are productions now on and upcoming in our area. They include a midwinter Midsummer Night's Dream, a ripped-from-the-headlines Timon of Athens and the teenage tragedy Romeo and Juliet, featuring actual teenagers.
That one runs through this weekend at the New England Youth Theatre (neyt.org), Brattleboro's impressively professional conservatory for kids and teens, which immerses its students in Bardolatry as well as musical theater, improvised playmaking and other foundations of the craft. The current R&J is directed by Peter Gould, longtime NEYT faculty member, clown partner of the troupe's founder, Stephen Stearns, and—not incidentally in this context—an instructor in peacemaking and conflict resolution at Brandeis University.
Shakespeare's tragedy of adolescent lovers delivers a final message of forgiveness and reconciliation. But it also "grapples with issues that still tear at our hearts," says Gould. Not only "youthful love and passion, communication between teens and parents, [but also] violence, revenge and suicide, and how suddenly, brutally, fate can barge in and ruin all our best-laid plans." Friday's performance will include a cast-led talkback with Gould and suicide prevention specialist Ron Boslun.
(There are also unconfirmed rumors of a roving, flashmob-based R&J coming to the Valley, guided by Twitter. I'll let you know.)
Amherst Cinema's series of live satellite transmissions from the National Theatre in London continues next month with the rarely performed Timon of Athens (Nov. 1 and 17, amherstcinema.org). The title character is a rich man who buys power and prestige but is hung out to dry when the largesse dries up. It stars the protean Simon Russell Beale, who played a comic lead in last season's NT Live London Assurance and whose Timon has been described as "a performance of searching psychological penetration."
The NT production has been updated to contemporary London, a capitalist metropolis inhabited by bonus-stuffed bankers, self-absorbed socialites and Occupy protesters. When Timon's cash-flow blip turns into a crisis and no one will bail him out, he turns misanthrope, calling his erstwhile acolytes "large-handed robbers and filch by law." The British press hailed the production as "a lethally incisive, often viciously funny portrait of mankind in thrall to Mammon."
In December, A Midsummer Night's Dream gets a cold-weather outing at Smith College (Dec. 5-8, smith.edu/smitharts). An ensemble production developed collaboratively in Professor Daniel Kramer's class on acting Shakespeare, it has (of course) an all-female cast and what looks to be a contemporary tinge. The concept is still in process, but Kramer says, "We are focusing on the magic of summer nights and hoping to bring that magic to audiences in winter. We are interested in the glow of fireflies and the glow of the ice-cream truck at dusk on a city street or on a suburban cul-de-sac." As it's a family show, there will be a matinee performance, a rarity at Smith.
Contact Chris Rohmann at StageStruck@crocker.com.