Of all the major theaters in the Berkshires, Shakespeare & Company feels the most like a family. Many of the staff and performers live and work there year-round and many of the staff are also performers. Over the years, the company has developed a core ensemble of actors who play supporting roles as often as leads. So it's surprising to notice, when looking over this summer's lineup of eight plays, two Shakespeares, two solo shows and a contemporary comedy that are, in effect, vehicles for leading players.
There's only one national marquee name on this summer's "star" roster—this is not, after all, Williamstown's largely name-driven festival. That's Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis, who wields Prospero's magic staff in The Tempest. The fiery octogenarian certainly has the power and presence to inhabit what is traditionally a male role, and a commanding one at that—a magician capable of whipping up a storm at sea and bending an enchanted island's creatures to his will. Dukakis' original adaptation explores the mother-daughter dynamic and the seat of feminine power in Shakespeare's tale of a banished duke balancing revenge and forgiveness.
This is Dukakis' first S&Co mainstage appearance in over two decades (as an old friend and colleague of artistic director Tony Simotes and founder Tina Packer, she has participated in several readings and benefits), but most of the other headliners are regular "family" members. They include a literal family member, Packer's husband, Dennis Krausnick. In the past, he's worked mostly behind the scenes, confining himself to secondary roles. Now he's scaling that most daunting of Shakespearean summits, King Lear, after mounting the foothills last year as another legendary monarch, Cymbeline.
The magnificent Tod Randolph is currently recreating the wartime world of Dorothy Thompson, the outspoken journalist who was called "the second most influential woman in America" (after Eleanor Roosevelt), in Norman Plotkin's Cassandra Speaks. The one-woman show finds Thompson on the brink of her third marriage, reminiscing acidly and humorously about her early miscalculation of Hitler, her celebrity friendships and failed relationships, and the crooks and scoundrels she has spent her career excoriating.
Annette Miller is a solo-show veteran at S&Co, having impersonated Israeli patriot Golda Meir, fashionista Diana Vreeland and Watergate wife Martha Mitchell. She's got company this year, but retains star billing, in The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, Charles Busch's Neil Simon-esque comedy about an upscale New York matron whose midlife slough of despond is stirred up by the reappearance of a wacky childhood friend.
Three of these shows are already running in repertory on S&Co's Lenox campus. The Tempest opens on July 19, and later in the summer the company will be joined by John Douglas Thompson, who has previously thrilled S&Co's patrons as Othello and Richard III. Satchmo at the Waldorf visits Louis Armstrong in his dressing room on the evening of what will turn out to be his final performance, recalling a half-century career in which he reshaped American music. It opens on August 22 and plays until mid-September.
Shakespeare & Company, 70 Kemble St., Lenox, (413) 637-3353, shakespeare.org.
Contact Chris Rohmann at StageStruck@crocker.com.