Tony Simotes goes way back with Shakespeare & Company, so if he says he’s excited as ever about the troupe’s 2012 summer season in Lenox, Mass., it really means something.
“We’re celebrating a season of rebellion and revolution,” said Simotes, artistic director and one of Shakespeare & Company’s founding members back in 1978. “I’m so proud of what [founder] Tina Packer created here 35 years ago, and I’m so excited about the vision I have for the company going forward. It really is going to be a great season.”
Simotes became artistic director in January of 2009, replacing Packer, who continues to work as an actress and director with the company. And, when she created the company in 1978 and produced Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Simotes was part of the cast.
“I’m one of the founding members, and I remember that first season very well,” he said. “Unlike some of the other actors, I left and took my career to New York and Los Angeles. But I’ve come back home. I love this place, this area, and we’re celebrating that past and looking forward to the future.”
WHERE: Bernstein Theatre, Shakespeare & Company, 70 Kemble St., Lenox, Mass.
WHEN: Through Sept. 2; performance times vary
HOW MUCH: $50-$15
MORE INFO: (413) 637-3353, www.shakespeare.org
Shakespeare & Company kicked off its season two weeks ago on the Bernstein Theatre stage with the world premiere of “Cassandra Speaks,” the story of journalist Dorothy Thompson — who Time Magazine once called the most influential woman in America, next to Eleanor Roosevelt. Thompson, the first foreign correspondent expelled from Nazi Germany by Adolf Hitler, is played by veteran Shakespeare & Company actress Tod Randolph.
“It’s a terrific show about a unique figure in history, played by one of the premier actresses around today,” said Simotes. “Thompson has sort of been pushed to the sidelines, but she was very influential in prewar America, and she was on a par with Walter Winchell. Tod does a great job of capturing her and bringing her back to life. It really is a tour de force performance.”
The play, a one-woman show, is set on the eve of Thompson’s third marriage. Norman Plotkin is the playwright and Nicole Ricciardi the director. The show will run through Sept. 2 in the Bernstein Theatre.
Also under way at Founders’ Theatre and running through Sept. 7 is “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife,” starring Annette Miller. Written by Charles Busch, it was nominated for three Tony awards in 2000, including Best Play.
“It’s a very funny play with some great dialogue written by Charles Busch,” said Simotes, who is directing the show. “It’s a wonderfully brutal play that takes life and expands reality a little bit. It’s a laugh-a-minute comedy, but it also deals with mature subject matter.”
“King Lear” will open Saturday night and run until Aug. 19 at the Founder’s Theatre. Two more productions Simotes is looking forward to are “The Tempest,” with Olympia Dukakis, and “Satchmo at the Waldorf,” with John Douglas Thompson. Both will run on the Founders’ Theatre Stage, with “The Tempest” opening July 19 and running for four weeks, and “Satchmo” opening Aug. 22 and running for three weeks.
Dukakis as Duchess
Simotes, who is directing “The Tempest,” is thrilled to be working with Dukakis, who was his theater professor at New York University. An Oscar winner in 1987 for her work in the film “Moonstruck,” Dukakis will be playing the Duchess Prospero.
“We moved it up to the 1940s, just to give it a romantic feel and a beautiful era to play in, and we’ve switched a few gender roles, which is not unusual for Shakespeare,” said Simotes.
“Olympia will be playing the duchess, not the duke, but that’s pretty simple, so we think the audience will go along with us. The language is all pretty much the same, so I’m really looking at this as an opportunity to create some pretty wonderful theater.”
“Satchmo” is a one-man play that celebrates the life of jazz musician Louis Armstrong. It is a new work written by The Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout, and is set in March of 1971 backstage at the Waldorf as Armstrong prepares for what will be his last performance. John Douglas Thompson, a regular performer at Shakespeare & Company, will portray Armstrong as well as his longtime manager, Joe Glaser.
“It’s hard when you’re playing a character that’s so well-known, and it’s not like John actually looks like Armstrong,” said Simotes. “But it’s not about replicating him. It’s about producing the deeper aspects of his character. John’s been researching Armstrong for months now, and he’s going to do a great job. It’s a real theatrical piece, and I’m very proud to have it opening here.”