'Richard III' opens season at Hampshire
By KEITH J. O'CONNOR
Lovers of Shakespeare who call the bard's words "breathtaking" can also apply that description to the scenery used by the Hampshire Shakespeare Company to stage their productions each summer.
The scenery isn't a painted backdrop, but the bare beauty of an outdoor stage in Hadley which overlooks the Holyoke range.
"Sometimes one of the distractions is how breathtaking the whole Holyoke range really is at the back of the stage ... it's really quite stunning," said R. Dean Acheson, who is directing "Richard III," which opens the company's 13th season on Wednesday at the Hartsbrook School.
"Shakespeare's plays aren't about scenery, but relationships and action and the complexity of human emotions, and the simplicity of our stage forces audiences to figure out what is important," he added.
Acheson has crafted an exciting production that opens with the battle that brought the Yorks to power in the War of the Roses and left the field open for Richard's ambition to exploit.
"This is good storytelling and of all of Shakespeare's plays this one catapulted him to popularity," Acheson said about "Richard III."
"It's been on my Top 10 list of Shakespeare to direct. 'Richard' is delicious and reminds me of 'Othello' ... he makes his audience co-conspirators," he added.
But Acheson didn't always want to direct a Shakespearian play.
"I've been avoiding him for probably about two decades, not only because I've seen a lot of bad Shakespeare done, but because I've been intimidated by the language," Acheson said.
"As a director I watch the stage like a silent movie and if you turn off the words, then you should be able to follow what is going on by the visual action on stage. But I've found that Shakespeare creates a complexity of character and action that has given me as a director the chance to create a whole cinematic picture of what is going on. And I found instead of having too many words, at times there are not enough to cover all I want to see happening on stage," he added.
When Richard III exits the stage on July 13, he will make way for "Love's Labors Lost," July 16-26, which follows the antics of love-struck lords and ladies, as well as assorted eccentric villagers.
It's director Jim Ellis' first foray into directing Shakespeare. He previously appeared in the company's production of "Taming of the Shrew."
"I've long heard it said no one really should be allowed to teach a play you haven't directed....you learn so much more about it actually doing the play," Ellis said.
"It's an extraordinary play....intricate and full of pyrotechnics, and I don't mean fire but verbal puns and plays on words," he added.
The director noted on his first outing he is tinkering with the master.
"Traditionally the title of the play has a second apostrophe in the word labors, but I'm getting rid of it because it makes it a contraction meaning the labor of love is lost, and I take the word to be like the labors of Hercules," Ellis said.
In "Love's Labors Lost," the King of Navarre and three other young noblemen set themselves up for failure when they renounce the company of women for three years, intending to devote themselves to academics.
"Instead of laboring to become academicians, they labor to get out of their vows of celibacy when the Princess of France and three of her ladies arrive in Navarre on business," Ellis said.
The company's summer season will close with the HSC Young Company's production of "Love's Labors Lost" directed by Laura Patnode from Aug. 1-3. The Young Company is a group of apprentice players, ranging in age from 10 to 18, who are cast in smaller roles in one of the company's main stage productions before stepping into the principal roles for their own production of the play.
The venue at Hartsbrook School is handicapped-accessible. Seating is general admission and chairs are provided, however, audience members can also choose to sit on the grass.
Since performances are "under the stars," weather is a deciding factor if the show goes on. Umbrellas are offered to the audience in the event of a sudden downpour or light rain, but no performances are staged during torrential rain.
Audiences are encouraged to arrive early and enjoy a picnic lunch on the lawn. And for those who don't like cooking, individual "Picnics to Go," priced at $8.50, are available by advance order from Flayvors of Cook Farm, located about one mile from the theater. Picnics can be ordered by calling (413) 584-2224.