Teaching Shakespeare to serious theater students sounds like a perfect fit for Jonathan Epstein.
As a longtime regular at Shakespeare & Company in the Berkshires, Epstein has immersed himself into the Bard and his work for 21 summers in Lenox, Mass., and this fall he will join the faculty at the Asolo/Florida State University Conservatory where he will teach MFA candidates in Shakespeare Performance.
“I’ve done a lot of teaching in the past, but I never taught a conservatory program for a full year,” said Epstein. “I’ll be working with second-year grad students, and teaching them how to do Shakespeare. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Before he steps into the academic world, Epstein will be kept busy this summer at Shakespeare & Company. The current play he’s performing in, Tom Stoppard’s 2006 Olivier winner for Best New Comedy, “Heroes,” opened last weekend and will run at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre in Lenox through Sept. 1. Other works being presented this summer include “Mother Courage and Her Children,” with Olympia Dukaikas (July 26-Aug. 25); “Richard II,” with Rocco Sisto (July 5-21); and “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” with Tina Packer (Aug. 8-Sept. 15).
WHERE: Shakespeare & Company, Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, 70 Kemble St., Lenox, Mass.
WHEN: Through Sept. 1, performance times vary
HOW MUCH: $50-$15
MORE INFO: (413) 637-3353 or www.shakespeare.org
At Shakespeare & Company, Epstein has played Lear, Macbeth, Richard III and King Leonites,
to name a few, and has also directed “Henry V.” While Stoppard isn’t Shakespeare, he’s about as close to the Bard as you can find these days.
“It has a deep kind of sentimentality to it, coupled with really good humor,” Epstein said of “Heroes.” “I love Stoppard, and I love the elegance and complexity of his language. He’s one of the few modern playwrights, along with [Harold] Pinter, where you can always learn something about yourself, and I think Stoppard has a gentler heart than Pinter.”
“Heroes” is set in 1959 in a French retirement home for World War I veterans. The play is actually Stoppard’s adaptation and translation of the 2003 play, “Le Vent des Peupliers,” by French playwright Gerald Sibleyras. “Heroes” opened in London in November 2005 and had a limited engagement, closing on Jan. 14, 2006. It starred Richard Griffiths, John Hurt and Ken Stott.
“It deals with a time that is of interest to me,” said Epstein. “If you think about it, our generation is the last that really has a link to World War I. Both of my grandfathers were in World War I. I remember them, but my kids have no direct connection. It’s nice to be able to do something that helps that time period stay in our culture a bit longer. That time still reverberates for some of us, and it’s nice to give life to that reverberation.”
Making up the cast of “Heroes” along with Epstein are Malcolm Ingram and Robert Lohbauer. Shakespeare & Company founding member Kevin Coleman is directing.
plenty to absorb
“The play has been alive in my mind since the first reading,” said Coleman. “I’ve always loved Stoppard’s plays, and his translation of ‘Le Vent des Peupliers’ is no exception. And, he makes me uneasy. There’s always more going on in his plays, with his delicious language and his comic and absurd Chekhovian characters than can be easily discovered in a quick read, or even in the pressured pace of the rehearsal room.”
In Epstein, Ingram and Lohbauer, Coleman says he has the perfect cast to make the play and the characters come alive on stage.
“These are just the right guys to play these parts,” said Coleman. “They fit like gloves. I’m fortunate to have had this script for a while, and I’m relieved to have Bob and Jonny and Malcolm in the room with me. Who knew we’d care so deeply about three old world war veterans on a terrace with a bronze dog? Who knew their story could be so funny or so breathtakingly sad?”
A Czech-born British playwright, Stoppard won Tony Awards for his three-part series in 2007, “The Coast of Utopia,” and also earned Best Play Tonys for “The Real Thing” (1984), “Travesties” (1976) and “Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” (1968).
“Heroes” isn’t the only Shakespeare & Company production Epstein is spending time with this summer. He and his wife, actress Ariel Bock, will play the two main characters in Eve Wolf’s “None But the Lonely Heart: The Strange Story of Tchaikovsky and Madame von Meck,” July 18-Aug. 3 at the Bernstein Theatre. Donald T. Sanders is directing.
“They had a long and passionate romance entirely through their correspondence,” said Epstein. “They never met. My wife and I don’t get a chance to act together that often, so we’re happy about that.”
While Epstein is looking forward to playing another character not brought to life by Shakespeare, he won’t stray away for too long.
“I’ve had many memorables roles, but the more memorable ones tend to be Shakespeare,” he said. “There might be a few exceptions, but when you do a contemporary play that’s really sizable, you usually compare it to playing Shakespeare. It’s not the other way around.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or email@example.com.