Three Hamlets and a hip-hop Romeo and Juliet: What’s onstage at Shakespeare theaters in July

Every month, we share a snapshot of Shakespeare in performance around America. (Many of the plays we featured in our June round-up are still onstage this month, with some continuing through August, September, and October.)

This month, we check in with our theater partners at Atlanta Shakespeare Company, Baltimore Shakespeare Factory, Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, Houston Shakespeare Festival, Illinois Shakespeare Festival, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, Shakespeare in Detroit, and Utah Shakespeare Festival.

West Coast

San Francisco Shakespeare Festival presents Hamlet (Jul 1 – Oct 1) for the first time this summer as its Free Shakespeare in the Park play, celebrating the festival’s 35th anniversary. In this production, which moves around to different parks in the Bay Area, the characters of Polonius, Horatio, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Laertes are women.

San Francisco Hamlet 2017
(L to R) Sharon Huff* as Polonius and Nathaniel Andalis in the title role of the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival’s 35th anniversary Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Hamlet. (*member Actors’ Equity Association) Photo: Jay Yamada

Director Stephen Muterspaugh explains in the program notes that he cut the script from the First Folio version of Hamlet in half, using the First Quarto of Hamlet as a guide. “This lean cutting seeks to propel the action and heighten the tension, while remaining true to the journey,” he writes.

Muterspaugh also moved Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” speech to its First Quarto location (two scenes earlier than the usual position). “I find the placement of this speech in various modern productions infinitely fascinating,” he writes. “The First Quarto position helps enhance the pressure and keep our hero in a dubious state of mind while striving for the impossible answers to his quest, and provides a ripple effect that is felt by all who interact with him.”

At Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Henry IV, Part 2 (Jul 4 – Oct 29) is now onstage, following on Henry IV, Part 1 (Feb 22 – Oct 28). The Merry Wives of Windsor is also still playing (Jun 6 – Oct 13), which means playgoers have three opportunities to see Falstaff in action. (⇒ Related: A Falstaff feast) Julius Caesar and Shakespeare in Love both run through Oct 29.

OSF Henry IV part 2
King Henry IV (Jeffrey King) falls stricken, tended by his children Clarence and Gloucester (Alejandra Escalante and Nemuna Ceesay, left and right) and Westmorland (Robert Vincent Frank). Photo by Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

West and Southwest

This month, Colorado Shakespeare Festival presents the most controversial play of the political moment, Julius Caesar (Jul 7 – Aug 12), along with two other plays that were part of CSF’s inaugural season in 1958: Hamlet (Jul 9 – Aug 13) and The Taming of the Shrew (Jul 14 – Aug 13). Hamlet and Laertes are both played by women.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard’s comedic riff on Hamlet, will be playing in rep with its source material at Colorado Shakespeare Festival (Jul 21 – Aug 13). In his director notes, Timothy Orr comments on the “relative powerlessness” of the two main characters:

Their position is highlighted when you produce this play alongside Hamlet. The concerns in Hamlet are not only the prince’s existential crisis but also the affairs of the royal family and issues of state; in short, the dealings of the great and powerful. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, in both plays, are nobodies. As humorous as they are in Stoppard’s hands, they are still powerless and uninformed.

Houston Shakespeare Festival presents Twelfth Night (Jul 28, 30 & Aug 1, 3, 5) and Richard III (Jul 29 & Aug 2, 4, 6), free to the public at an outdoor theater.

At Utah Shakespeare Festival, Shakespeare in Love (Jun 30 – Sep 8) is running in rep with Romeo and Juliet (Jul 1 – Sep 9). Also onstage are As You Like It (Jun 29 – Sep 7) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Jul 4 – Oct 21), which is “set in the art deco world of the Jazz Age.”

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For those looking for some Shakespeare parody, William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) (Jul 28 – Oct 21) opens later this month at Utah for its regional premiere. The play was first performed by the Reduced Shakespeare Company at Folger Theatre in April 2016.

⇒ Related: Listen to an interview with the Reduced Shakespeare Company about their play on the Folger’s Shakespeare Unlimited podcast.

Midwest

Illinois Shakespeare Festival, in its 40th season, has three plays onstage: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Jun 28 – Aug 11), Shakespeare’s Amazing Cymbeline (Jul 1 – Aug 12), and I Heart Juliet (Jul 8 – Aug 8). Shakespeare’s Amazing Cymbeline is a six-person adaptation of Shakespeare’s play by Chris Coleman, and I Heart Juliet (sold out!) is a hip-hop adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet by the Q Brothers.

Shakespeare in Detroit closes its 2017 season with Hamlet (Jul 14-16). Admission is free to the outdoor performances at New Center Park.

Shakespeare in Detroit Hamlet
Dante Jones as Hamlet, Shakespeare in Detroit, 2017. Photo by Chuk Nowak.

East Coast

For its 2017 Free Shakespeare on the Common, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company in Boston is staging Romeo and Juliet (Jul 19 – Aug 6). Performances are free and open to the public.

Baltimore Shakespeare Factory presents A Midsummer Night’s Dream outdoors in the Meadow at Johns Hopkins Evergreen Museum & Library (Jul 7-23, on weekends). The production moves indoors for the final weekend (Jul 28-30) in the Great Hall Theater at St. Mary’s Community Center. Keep an ear out for contemporary tunes like “Love Potion No. 9,” “Love Shack,” and “Do You Believe in Magic.”

Atlanta Shakespeare Company is also performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Jul 8-30) at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse.

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