Shakespeare: Yes, 37 Plays in 90 Minutes
Live theater is back at Northern Stage
Northern Stage is bringing live theater back to the Barrette Center, and its choices could not be better in this almost-post-Covid transition. Continuing in the past year’s tradition of the Stage’s competent and plucky improvisation, the venue itself for this season’s opener is the newly built outdoor Courtyard Theater, just in back of the Barrette Center. It’s a lush space (there are trees) with the right amount of urban grittiness (the space formerly housed garbage dumpsters). The ground is mulched, the chairs comfy, and there’s even some balcony seating.
This first production of the season, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), is a madcap performance of 37 (count ‘em) Shakespearean plays in just over 90 minutes. To describe in detail how that gets done would be a spoiler, but it includes 3 actors, many layers of costuming and wigs, split-second entrances and exits, props like toy boats and golf clubs. There’s singing, dancing, the requisite sword play, and arm flapping, the latter a soupçon of audience participation. You don’t have to know Shakespeare to enjoy the fun. Two 8 year-old boys in the first row at the performance I attended were gleefully ingesting the entire experience, and I am pretty sure they were not Shakespearean scholars.
Grayson DeJesus, previously seen as the inspector in Northern Stage’s Mud Season Mystery: The Lodger, is a convincing louche Romeo in an early Justin Bieber-style wig; he tells a Dad joke or two to fill the time when his acting cohorts abandon him onstage. Jenni Putney, a veteran of numerous Northern Stage productions, shines in a musical number (“I Hate Men”) and in the famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet. She improvised nicely when interrupted by the roar of a plane overhead. No one wears more wigs with more panache than Eric Love, actor and Northern Stage’s Director of Education, who gets his stated wish to be in the show in umpteen hilarious roles, including a fetching Juliet.
The fourth wall is breached constantly as the cast comments on lack of rehearsal time and their own acting chops in the various roles, bestowing upon the audience a shared sense of being insiders rather than just spectators. The play itself has been updated for the times, as characters smooch through surgical masks and talk about Bridgerton.
The production is clever, the timing impeccable, the laughs are the out loud kind. And at the end of the production, when the cast pronounces from the stage that “Live theater is back!”, you could find yourself dabbing away a tear, as you savor the privilege of having been there—finally—to witness its return.
All Courtyard seating for the 2021/22 Season (next up is Million Dollar Quartet) will be sold as General Admission, but seating locations will be assigned in advance on the day of performance. Single tickets cost $45. $19 tickets are available for all full-time students regardless of age, with a valid photo ID. Patrons can save the most by subscribing to all four main stage shows in the 2021/22 Season. Subscriptions cost $165 (more than 20% off the single-ticket price) and are currently on sale. For tickets, visit NorthernStage.org, or call the Box Office directly at 802-296-7000.
The performance schedule for The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is Tuesday and Wednesday at 8:00 PM, Thursday at 4:00 and 8:00 PM, Friday at 8:00 PM, Saturday at 4:00 and 8:00 PM, and Sunday at 5:00 PM. The play runs until July 4th.
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And in case you are wondering . . . Susan B. Apel shuttered a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.