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Bard’s back

The Arkansas Shakespeare Festival returns to UCA’s Reynolds Performance Hall.

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For its fourth annual Shakespeare Festival, the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre will again offer a quartet of plays, two by the Bard and two by lesser mortals. See if you can guess which of the following lines didn't come from the playwright Harold Bloom dubbed “the fixed center of the Western canon”:

1. I come to wive it wealthily in Padua;

If wealthily, then happily in Padua.

2. Away, and mock the time with fairest show:

False face must hide what the false heart doth know.

3. Germany was blue

What, oh, what to do?

Hitched up my pants

and conquered France.

The correct answers, of course, are 1. Shakespeare, 2. Shakespeare, 3. Mel Brooks. For what's a Shakespeare festival without a smattering of “Springtime for Hitler”?

Der Führer's appearance in the play-within-a-play central to Brooks' farce “The Producers” ought to leaven concerns that the festival (or anything associated with Shakespeare, for that matter) outclasses the tastes of the peanut gallery. Anyone who blanches at “The Taming of the Shrew” or “Macbeth,” quoted above, respectively, can opt for “The Producers” or, for the tots, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” The four shows will alternate on the same stage and with the same players June 10 through 28. (A particularly voracious patron could see all four within about a 30-hour span on the weekend of June 20-21.)

“I sit there and watch ‘The Producers' and I can't believe we're doing it,” said Matt Chiorini, the festival's producing artistic director. Last year the musical in the lineup was “The Sound of Music,” which Chiorini said played well to the audiences in Conway. This year, though, Chiorini decided to push his luck somewhat and direct, he said, the first company in Arkansas to attempt Brooks' Broadway hit about two producers' attempt to cash in on a deliberately abhorrent musical full of singing Nazis.

When playgoers complained last year about the bawdy bits of “Romeo and Juliet,” Chiorini figured, what the heck. “If they're going to be offended at that,” he said, “then let's do ‘The Producers.' ”

A Californian by birth, actor by trade and Harvard man by degree, Chiorini was hired from the People's Branch Theatre in Nashville three years ago to start the Shakespeare Festival. Last year's festival drew 5,000 people, half of whom were out-of-towners. This year, the festival is featuring three family picnics, a Father's Day special and a fund-raiser Bard Ball on June 23.

The goal is to turn the festival into more than a collection of plays, even if those performances draw from the greatest source material in the world.

“Shakespeare is such a beautiful medium,” Chiorini said. “You can see a hundred different Hamlets and they're all completely different.”

Indeed, if you've seen the 1953 film “Kiss Me Kate” you know “The Taming of the Shrew.” (Check out that movie's original promo posters, with a grinning Howard Keel raring back to spank Kathryn Grayson, who's turned over his knee, to see just how malleable the Bard's oeuvre gets.)

“Macbeth,” meanwhile, is just good, dark fun. No springtime here: instead treachery, witchcraft, lies, vengeance and killing galore, “sound and fury,” “something wicked this way comes,” and “I have supp'd full with horrors.” For what's a Shakespeare festival without a dab of decapitation?

 

All performances are in Reynolds Performance Hall on the campus of UCA in Conway. Individual tickets range from $10 to $30. “MacBeth” plays at 7:30 p.m. June 11, 20 and 28. “Taming of the Shrew” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. June 12-13 and 21 and 2 p.m. June 28. “The Producers” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. June 18-19, 24-25 and 27 and 2 p.m. June 21. “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” will be performed at 2 p.m. June 19-20 and 10 a.m. June 20. For ticket packages and more, visit arkshakes.com.

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