Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, best known for its annual production on Boston Common, is reviving Tour of the Parks, a program of neighborhood performances, with a show called “Shakespeare on Love.” In it, actors perform four famous love scenes from Shakespeare plays.
John and Abigail Adams would have been delighted to see Shakespearean actors perform a love scene from “Romeo and Juliet” on their estate. And that pleases Steven Maler, founder and artistic director of Commonwealth Shakespeare Company (CSC), which is staging a free performance at Adams National Historical Park next month.
“We’re really excited to be in Quincy at the Adams Estate because John and Abigail were great Shakespeare fans,” Maler said. “They talk about and refer to him in their letters.”
CSC is best known for its annual production on Boston Common, which this summer is “Comedy of Errors,” running July 31 - Aug. 16. But now, it’s also reviving Tour of the Parks, a program of neighborhood performances that ended in 2004 when CSC partnered with the Wang Center, now the Citi Performing Arts Center.
“The Wang didn’t want Tour of the Parks, but now that we’re separate we’re reviving it,” said Maler, who became independent of Citi last fall. “Getting into the neighborhoods is important for us. We want people to see live theater and maybe be inspired to come downtown to see the production.”
For the neighborhood show “Shakespeare on Love,” CSC actors perform four famous love scenes – from “Romeo and Juliet,” “As You Like It,” “The Taming of the Shrew,” and “Henry V.” Songs and sonnets written by Shakespeare, or inspired by him, weave together the scenes. In the Quincy performance at 2 p.m. Aug. 13, the actors will read some letters written by John and Abigail Adams and selected by Karen Yourell, supervisory park ranger at the Adams National Historical Park.
“We were struck by how the Adamses wrote about their love with the same mixture of passion, wisdom, humor, and hope that can be found in the scenes that make up Shakespeare on Love,” said Ryan Maxwell, assistant director for “The Comedy of Errors” and director of “Shakespeare on Love.”
In choosing “Comedy of Errors” for his 14th year of free Shakespeare, Maler picked one of Shakespeare’s early plays, known for its breezy farce, slapstick and word plays.
“It’s been such a challenging period for everybody that we wanted to do a play that’s silly and fun,” Maler said. “It’s a romp and a very slapstick play. But it has moments of depth, nuggets of profundity, as all his comedies do.”
It’s the story of two sets of identical twins accidentally separated at birth, which sets off a series of mishaps based on mistaken identities. Maler sets it in South Beach Florida during Prohibition, with Art Deco costumes and set. He’s even added a character, an elegantly dressed woman who strolls across the stage as she walks her Greyhound.
Mistaken identities are common in Shakespeare comedies for good reason, Maler said. People are not who they appear to be and behave in ways they ordinarily would not.
“It’s a wonderful vehicle for comedic situations,” Maler said. “What’s fun is that the audience is inside of something that the characters on stage aren’t aware of. We watch them careening around, and we enjoy the chaos created by the double identity.”
But the characters also are on a journey toward discovery and resolution.
“Even in the lightest forms of comedy, the humor comes out of struggling to resolve questions,” Maler said. “One of the great rediscovery scenes in “Comedy of Errors” is when two sets of twins discover their long lost brother, a husband discovers his long lost wife and she him, and both discover their long lost children.”
Shakespeare based “Comedy of Errors” on a Roman play, and his comedy was the inspiration for the musical “The Boys from Syracuse” by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart as well as the hip-hop musical “The Bomb-itty of Errors.”
About 75,000 people are expected to fill the area near the Parkman Bandstand for the two matinee and 15 evening performances. Maler hopes many people will make a donation of $5 or more as they pass volunteers who will greet them at entrances to the seating area. In addition, Mayor Menino, news show host Emily Rooney, and other Boston leaders and celebrities will join Maler on stage each night to make a pitch for the audience to protect this cultural tradition.
“What the audience needs to understand is that there is no financial giant behind this project,” said Maler, who has deferred his salary until more funds can be raised for the $350,000 annual budget. “We’re free, but if people want it to happen next summer, they have to support it. If they respond the way we hope and think they will, CSC will be financially stable.”
Despite the need for funds, CSC has not skimped on the production, in part because many performers have accepted less salary and others are donating their talents. The cast of 27 includes seasoned Shakespearean actors Fred Sullivan, Jr. Larry Coen, and Remo Airaldi, as well as newcomers.
“Nobody is working at a salary that is appropriate to their skills,” Maler said.
As CSC returns to its mission, it’s also exploring new directions. On the final weekend of the run, the shows will be preceded by live jazz and vocal performances by New England Conservatory of Music musicians.
“This year, there are things that we’re bringing back and we’re experimenting with new things,” Maler said. “We’re excited.”
The Patriot Ledger