While the world may be acknowledging the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death (April 23, 1616) this year, closer to home the The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is celebrating its 54th season with seven productions and an exhibition of the Bard’s First Folio.
The Madison-based Shakespeare Festival produces six shows at its indoor space at Drew University and one outside in the College of St. Elizabeth’s (Morristown) Greek Theatre (replica of the Theater of Dionysius in Athens).
In October, a partnership between Drew University and The Shakespeare Theatre has resulted in Drew being chosen as the New Jersey site for the national First Folio Tour. Published in 1623, only 233 known copies exist. and theatergoers can see one of them at Mead Hall, across from the Kirby Theatre. To be announced special events are planned, too.
Here’s a quick look at the upcoming season:
The Main Stage
“A Song at Twilight,” May 11 – May 29, by Noël Coward, directed by Paul Mullins. Press Opening: May 14.
“Coriolanus,” July 6—24, by William Shakespeare, directed by Brian B. Crowe. Press Opening: July 9.
“Exit the King,” Aug. 10 — 28, by Eugene Ionesco, directed by Bonnie J. Monte. Press Opening: Aug. 13
“Red Velvet,” Sept. 7 — 25, by Lolita Chakrabarti, directed by Bonnie J. Monte. Press Opening: September 10
“Richard III,” Oct. 5 – Nov. 6, by William Shakespeare, directed by Paul Mullins. Press Opening: October 8
“A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” Nov. 30 – Jan. 1, by Dylan Thomas, directed by Joseph Discher. Press Opening: Dec. 3.
On the Outdoor Stage
“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)(revised),” June 22 – July 31, by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, directed by Jeffrey M. Bender. Press Opening: June 29
Complete Works subscriptions as well as 5-Play and 4-Play discount ticket packages are on sale. For information or to purchase a subscription, call the Box Office at 973-408-5600 or visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org.
In-depth look at season
— Kicks off with A Song at Twilight by Noël Coward. Somewhat autobiographical, this final play from the master of sophisticated wit is enhanced by live piano accompaniment that is peppered throughout the action. There has been a surge of interest in this entertaining and bittersweet comedy in recent years, and the Theatre is thrilled that revered company member Edmond Genest will appear in the leading role. A Song at Twilight will be directed by Paul Mullins and will preview on May 11 and run through May 29.
— Annual Outdoor Stage production will kick off with a new production of an old favorite, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)(revised) by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield. Last seen at the Outdoor Stage in 2008, it was hugely popular with audiences. The authors have updated the play for the 21st century, so while it essentially remains the same wildly irreverent comedy, it is sprinkled throughout with new material and up-to-date references, providing some wonderful new surprises for the audience. Not only is this is a terrific show to introduce Shakespeare to young people, but it is a hilarious spoof that appeals to people of all ages — to those who love the Bard and to those who are not so fond! The Theatre is happy to welcome back longtime company member Jeffrey M. Bender to direct. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)(revised) will run from June 22 through July 31.
— The second Main Stage offering opens on July 6th with the perfect play for an election year. Brian B. Crowe will direct Shakespeare’s rarely-performed tragedy Coriolanus. This Roman epic, one of Shakespeare’s most political plays, depicts the confrontation between social classes, civil insurrection, and the machinations of politicians. But the brilliant essence of this play lies in the depiction of a great man whose moral and psychological flaws bring about his fall from grace. The production will play through July 24.
— Next up will be what is considered Eugene Ionesco’s masterpiece, Exit the King, which will be directed by Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte. This compelling allegory operates on a number of symbolic levels. A short work, it plays without intermission, showing us the last hour of a king’s life. It is a funny, dark, moving metaphor, and its significance goes far beyond King Berenger’s death. This production will feature a talk-back after almost every performance with the director and cast, and will run from August 10 through August 28.
— Launching the fall portion of the season, the Theatre will present the New Jersey premiere of Red Velvet by British playwright Lolita Chakrabarti. This fairly new play tells the true-life story of Ira Aldridge, the first African-American actor to appear as Othello on the London stage. The play is just starting to be performed across America, after its debut in England in 2012. Red Velvet will begin performances on September 7 and continue through September 25.
— In conjunction with the First Folio exhibit in October, the Theatre will present Shakespeare’s Richard III. Not seen since 2006 when
Paul Mullins played the title role, Mullins will return as director this time round. Since the recent discovery of a grave containing what is generally thought to be the remains of the real Richard III, much has been written about that infamous monarch as of late, and many scholars have commented on Shakespeare’s re-writing of history to serve his need to create the arch-villain of all villains — his intense, discontented, crippled, larger than life “protagonist,” Richard, Duke of Gloucester. This great tragedy will run from October 5 through November 6, and offers a number of school-time matinees for students.
— The Theatre will conclude the season with A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Last presented at the Theatre 13 years ago, our audience has asked for its return. Based on Dylan Thomas’ classic poem about his childhood holidays in Wales in the early 1900’s, this musical celebration of the season and a time gone by is appealing to people of all ages, cultures and beliefs, for it celebrates the simple joys of childhood, the spirit of goodness, the comfort of family, and the magic that music and the imagination bring to us all. Longtime company member Joseph Discher will direct the production, and it will run from November 30 through January 1.
Later in the season, audience favorites Something Wicked This Way Comes and Something Merry This Way Comes will return. Titled from a line in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Something Wicked This Way Comes will feature esteemed actors from The Shakespeare Theatre company as well as guest artists, presenting a 90-minute evening of material from the classic canon of the macabre. This one-night-only event will be held on October 24th.
Hearkening back to a time when families read to each other, Something Merry This Way Comes will be a collage of sparkling and inspiring holiday tales, songs, and poems read by members of The Shakespeare Theatre’s company of actors. Something Merry This Way Comes is appropriate for all ages, providing a lovely antidote to the commercial glitz that inundates life each year at holiday time. Something Merry This Way Comes will be held on December 12th.
Lend Us Your Ears, the Theatre’s play reading series, will returns for the 2016 season with a new slate of diverse and interesting plays. The Reading Series script-in-hand readings provide patrons with the opportunity to join the Theatre in exploring new or classic work; each reading features members of the Theatre’s esteemed company of actors as well as prestigious guest artists. Reading titles will soon be announced.
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR: Bonnie J. Monte
MAIN STAGE: F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre
36 Madison Ave. (at Lancaster Rd.), Madison, NJ
TICKETS & INFO: Call the Box Office at 973-408-5600 or visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org
Complete Works subscriptions as well as 5-Play and 4-Play discount ticket packages are on sale in now. For information or to purchase a subscription, call the Box Office at 973-408-5600 or visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org.