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This article by Joan Crespi was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

August 25, 1999. All rights reserved.

Shakespeare, Squared

In England, a nationwide vote elected William

Shakespeare

"Man of the Millennium." This week in Princeton, he is the

man of the weekend, courtesy of Shakespeare in the Square, a free

Palmer Square festival now celebrating its fifth anniversary.

Co-founded

by Victoria Liberatori and Anne Reiss, the outdoor drama festival

is a project of the 15-year-old Princeton Repertory Company.

"Twelfth Night" is this year’s attraction, with performances

set for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, August 27, 28, and 29. Playgoers

will notice the dates have been moved up from previous stagings in

October. Palmer Square wants to tie it in with its "Arts in the

Square Festival." And this year, as last, the performance caps

more than two weeks of readings and workshops, a total of 12 community

events, taking place in town as well as on the green. This year, for

the first time, free tickets can be picked up ahead of time at sponsor

Fleet Bank for what Princeton Rep bills as "free reserved priority

general seating."

And this year, with the sound under the auspices of One Dream Sound

Company, everybody will be miked. And more.

L’Amoroso ensemble will play Elizabethan and Baroque music for an

hour before performances, and you can picnic on the green beforehand.

Bring your own food or buy it on the green along with other items,

maybe oranges.

"They’d threaten the actors in Shakespeare’s time at the Globe

with oranges," Liberatori, director of "Twelfth Night,"

tells us in a phone interview.

Shakespeare in the Square began humbly in 1995 with Princeton Rep

presenting scenes on the green from "Hamlet," "The Merry

Wives of Windsor," and "As You Like It." For its second

year, this time on a constructed, elevated stage (and with an erratic

sound system), the group performed "The Comedy of Errors,"

one of the earliest Shakespeare plays, on two weekend days; on Sunday

a violent storm closed the performance. For its third year, on a

shivering

cold October weekend in 1997, back down on the green, using the trees

as wings to duck behind, the group presented "As You Like It,"

and last year, around the same trees, it performed "Much Ado About

Nothing."

You’ve already seen "Twelfth Night," this comedy of disguise

and several loves and mistaken identity? This play about male and

female twins separated by a shipwreck? This most musical of all

Shakespeare’s

plays? The comic characters of Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek,

Feste, the clown, and Malvolio are old familiars? Guaranteed you’ve

never seen a production like this one, because it is set in New

Orleans

in the late 1920s and early ’30s.

The play, as written, is set in Illyria, "a mysterious, romantic,

and slightly dangerous places," says Liberatori. "Transposing

it to New Orleans retains those qualities, while giving it a more

accessible edge to our audience." Also, Liberatori lived in New

Orleans for two years. "With set limitations — we can’t place

anything on the green that will in any way harm it — our pieces

have to be highly suggestive of the place, and New Orleans has very

recognizable architecture," she says. The production will use

some of the cast-iron grillwork characteristic of New Orleans. And

some of Feste’s songs are arranged in Southern, bluesy idiom.

Liberatori says she picked the immediate pre-Depression

period because of its accessibility, "while it also retains some

of the romance and the magic of Shakespeare’s play. The period prior

to the repeal of Prohibition has a certain mystique for people. It

had such an elegant, sophisticated quality, and it retains a certain

feeling of class distinction that is very important in several scenes

in `Twelfth Night’," she says. "Also, the costuming of that

period is gorgeous."

"The play," she says, "has examples of the several

permutations

love can take." And, considering Malvolio, "You reap what

you sow."

"Twelfth Night," notes Liberatori, is a sort of

"compendium

of Shakespeare’s comedies." Like "As You Like It," there’s

a female character who disguises herself as a man. And like "A

Comedy of Errors" there are twins, but in "Twelfth Night"

they’re look-alike brother and sister. (Both performed on the green

in previous years.)

Liberatori scouted performances of Shakespeare in New York for over

seven months, then had an open call. The play, with a cast of 14,

has been in rehearsal in New York for four weeks. Liberatori has cast

a very boyish actress to play Viola. "I think Shakespeare wanted

to investigate the boyish aspects of the character," she says.

"I think she perfectly fits the description that Malvolio gives

Olivia. I personally have never seen a Viola before who fits that

description. That’s what’s new about this production."

Liberatori made "absolutely" no changes in the script. "We

never change the script. We’re determined to use the First Folio

text,"

she emphasizes. "We did do some cuts," she qualifies. "And

a couple of words have been changed for modern clarity."

"This festival is unique because every single event is free. I

think we’re the only theater company in this state that is offering

professional theater for free." While Princeton Rep has been

nomadic

for all of its 15 years, "we’d love to have a theater space and

be able to do year-round productions of Shakespeare," Liberatori

says.

Shakespeare in the Square has also turned the playwright, born 435

years ago, into a modern social force by busing in Trenton students

both for workshops and performances on the green. "Kids who have

never, ever been to a play in their lives," Liberatori exclaims.

"They don’t even know who Shakespeare is!"

— Joan Crespi

Twelfth Night, Shakespeare in the Square, Palmer

Square, 609-921-3682. L’Amoroso early music ensemble performs

Elizabethan

and baroque works by Pachelbel, Purcell, Corello, and Handel, one

hour before the performances. Website:

http://www.princetonrep.org.

Friday and Saturday, August 27 and 28, at 7 p.m.; Sunday, August

29, at 2 p.m.


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