Bard or beard?

Shakespeare steps on the Publick stage
By SALLY CRAGIN  |  June 20, 2006

The Publick Theatre
This season the Publick Theatre will be doing Shakespeare in the park with a twist. The Bard becomes “the beard of Avon” in the play of the same name, which opens the al fresco troupe’s summer repertory June 29. In this 2001 comedy by Amy Freed (who was a Pulitzer finalist for Freedomland), we see Shakespeare at the dawn of his career, when he was just a stagestruck bumpkin from Stratford. As the work plays fast and loose with the question of who wrote Shakespeare’s plays, it presents a rich tapestry of Elizabethan characters that includes the monarch herself and contender Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

But does Beard settle the debate about whether Shakespeare was just the Oxford’s beard? “I think Amy Freed is handing the legacy right back to the audience,” says the Publick artistic director Diego Arciniegas, who helms the show. “She doesn’t take it seriously — she’s not trying to give new evidence that can make people crazy and undo reputations. She does what Stoppard does with high and low humor operating simultaneously. Even if you don’t get the arcane humor, there’s something shticky happening at the same time.”

In the play, Will is a winning if hapless personality who shows a gift for language early on. And area favorite M. Lynda Robinson gets to pull rank in the production as a multi-faceted Queen Elizabeth. “She talks about wanting to be in love. There’s this wonderful contrast between her as the ultimate image of power and her as a lonely woman. She describes herself as a marble monument and not a woman.”

Freed also tweaks our expectations of Will’s wife, Anne Hathaway, here a forthright partner who demands parity. “Her role is really expanded,” says Arciniegas. “She asks, ‘Why is it that Will can go to the city and mess around and he’s still the hero of the story? Why can’t I?’ ”

Although the Publick isn’t forsaking actual Shakespeare, this summer’s second offering is Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen. Arciniegas says the theater has always concentrated on Shakespeare because “we couldn’t pay the rights because we were struggling. Last year, with Arcadia [which won an Elliot Norton Award], it was such a lovely experience to take a playwright who’s working in language-driven plays. That’s what fueled Arcadia. And as I’ve become increasingly interested in the depiction of science through art, that logically leads me to Copenhagen, which adds a dimension of social responsibility.

“I thought it was important to transition with Beard of Avon for our audiences. And after five years of doing Shakespeare, we thought it would be fun to have a good old laugh at ourselves.”

THE BEARD OF AVON | Publick Theatre, 1400 Soldiers Field Road, Brighton | in repertory June 29–September 3 | $25-$30 | 617.782.5425

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  Topics: Theater , William Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth II, Diego Arciniegas,  More more >
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