Georgia Shakespeare stages summer love fest with 3 plays

Georgia Shakespeare is spinning daisy chains this summer as producing artistic director Richard Garner christens his three-play repertory season "The Summer of Love." Beginning with "As You Like It," all the world's a Woodstock at the Oglethorpe University campus theater.

Garner says he was "kind of joking" with his wife, director Karen Robinson, about the anniversaries of the Summer of Love (1967) and Woodstock (1969). As it turned out, the concepts of pastoral love, hippie fashion and revolutionary music fit perfectly with the tale of Rosalind and Orlando.

"It's led to some really fun stuff with music," Garner says of composer Thom Jenkins' '60s stylings. "You've got kind of the hippie-trippy music. And you've also got the leftovers of the early '60s pop sound. You are also starting to get stuff like Ravi Shankar coming in. It's just a really fun collision of all sorts of musical styles."

Here are Garner's thoughts on the summer season —- and his new musical take on Sophocles' "Antigone," which premieres this fall.

> "As You Like It." It's the festival's first staging of the cross-dressing farce since its Wild West version of 2001. Garner sees it as a chance for a new generation of ensemble members to step into the beefy roles of Rosalind and Orlando, to be played by Park Krausen and Daniel May. Robinson directs. "I chose her because I really liked what she did with 'Twelfth Night' a couple of years back." Oh yes, that's the show that got a rave from The Wall Street Journal. Through Aug. 3.

> "The Merchant of Venice." Because of the fate of Shylock (Chris Kayser), this play isn't always remembered as a romantic comedy and isn't exactly beloved by the Jewish community. But Garner and director Sabin Epstein hope to reaffirm the love story of Portia (Krausen) and Bassanio (Joe Knezevich). As for the anti-Semetic language, Garner says he consulted with Bill Nigut, southeastern director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Nigut told him the organization has a 30-page booklet on how to respond to "Merchant." Hence Garner sees the production as a good opportunity for public debate. June 26-Aug. 2

> "All's Well That Ends Well." Director Dan McCleary envisions the story of Helena (Suzannah Millonzi) and Bertram (Derrick Ledbetter) as a fairy tale, and plans to use live music and intensive choreography. This is the first time Georgia Shakespeare has produced "All's Well." "It's very much about unrequited love and longing, so it's a different look at it from 'As You Like It,' but it still keeps the theme going." July 10-Aug. 3.

> "Tom Thumb the Great." The theater's family show is a world premiere adaptation by Atlanta playwright Margaret Baldwin ("Her Little House"). July 18-Aug. 2.

> "Antigone." Inspired by Broadway's "Spring Awakening," Garner decided to adapt Sophocles' tragedy as a musical and commissioned composer Kendall Simpson to write the score. Though both "Spring Awakening" and "Antigone" have dour endings, Garner sees a thread of redemption in both. And he's not letting the fact that he has no background in musical theater stop him. "It will be really interesting, or it will really be a turkey." Oct. 9-Nov. 2.

Tickets, info: 404-264-0020, gashakespeare.org.

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