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Intimate Apparel. Photo by Stratton McCrady

In 1977, Television’s Fonzie jumped over a shark on water skis. It was the fifth season of Happy Days and, to most critics, it suggested that the show had reached a level of incredulity. Roughly 366 years prior to this, William Shakespeare “jumped the shark” with his hodgepodge comedy Cymbeline.

For all intents and purposes, Cymbeline is not considered one of Will’s finer works. British critic Lytton Strachey—on the subject of the play–concluded that “Shakespeare was getting bored himself. Bored with people, bored with real life, bored with drama, bored, in fact, with everything except poetry and poetical dreams.”

Perhaps. But let’s not forget that this is one of the world’s greatest scribes. Even mediocre Shakespeare is better than the finest writing most of us could conjure.

Cymbeline. Photo by Stratton McCrady

Thanks to director Tina Packer, the mediocrity has been scrubbed clean in a thoroughly fresh and fun revival at Shakespeare and Company. The show is currently on the boards at the Tina Packer Playhouse. Kris Stone’s versatile set offers an ideal setting for the 3 hour production. (Don’t fret-it feels much shorter!

Cymbeline, written near the end of his life, combines themes and elements of Shakespeare’s canon. Disapproving parents, mistaken identities, nations at war, and an amusing beheading all converge in an evening of terrific theater.

Cymbeline. Photo by Stratton McCrady

Both Packer and her immensely talented cast deserve high accolades for this production. This cast of 9 has mastered the difficult challenge of playing all 30 characters, many of whom change roles onstage. It keeps the action in constant forward motion and is a joy to watch.

The show holds a special place in Packer’s heart. With it, she has now directed all 37 plays written by the Bard. Shakespeare and Company celebrates its’ 40th season this year-thanks mostly to Packer, who originally founded this Berkshire gem.  With sold-out performances and  new artistic director Allyn Burrows at the helm, they are positioning themselves for another successful 40+ years. Play On!

Intimate Apparel. Photo by Stratton McCrady

On the other side of the campus, the work of one America’s finest playwrights is on display. Intimate Apparel, directed by Daniela Varon, is Lynn Nottage’s 2004 Off Broadway play that has found new life at Shakespeare and Company.  What a beautiful life it is.

Nottage has successfully painted a touching tapestry of various lives in 1905 Manhattan. Esther (Nehassaiu deGannes) is an illiterate African-American seamstress whose heart is torn between George (Lee Edward Colston II) and a Hasidic garment salesman, Mr. Marks (Tommy Schrider).

The potency of Nottage’s play cannot be overstated. She based the character of Esther on her great grandmother. Through careful research and poetic writing, she has presented a rich story and a lovely memory—not only to her family, but to countless men and women who have either become a footnote in history or—even sadder- have had the unfortunate label of being “unidentified”.

Nottage, whose Broadway play Sweat gave voice to disenfranchised blue collar workers, excels at making ordinary lives extraordinary. She reminds us why we love theater. It’s not just for entertainment and fine performances; it also reconnects and binds us to our shared humanity.

Sandra Goldmark’s economical set does a fine job at representing the show’s theme of inter-woven lives and Scott Killian’s incidental ragtime music adds even more luster to this glorious production.

New Yorkers who are looking for a charming weekend getaway would be wise to consider either of these notable productions.  Cymbeline runs through August 6th and Intimate Apparel ends on  August 13th.   The season continues through October with upcoming productions of The Tempest and God of Carnage.

Minutes away from the Lenox, MA theater is the Seven Hills Inn, a stunning Gilded Age mansion with tons of acreage, clean rooms, and a dynamic history. Quiet rooms provide the perfect respite for stressful metropolitan life and the helpful and friendly staff will make you feel at home.

For tickets and information to Shakespeare and Company visit http://www.shakespeare.org/

For nearby lodging at Seven  Hills Inn: http://sevenhillsinn.com/