SAVANNAH — Muses and players alike will set the stage ablaze as “Shakespeare on Love” comes to Forsyth Park May 17 at 8 p.m. “Shakespeare on Love” is the theme of the 22nd annual Savannah Shakespeare Festival, celebrating one of the world’s most beloved and influential dramatists.
Conceived by festival director JinHi Soucy Rand, this year’s production will be a collection of scenes, songs, soliloquies and sonnets by and inspired by William Shakespeare on the topic of love, performed by local theatre and spoken word organizations. Groups represented at this year’s festival include: Abeni Cultural Arts; All Walks of Life (AWOL); City Lights Theatre Company; Ensemble Con Spirito, Little Theatre Company of Savannah; Cardinal Rep; Savannah Children’s Theatre; and Spitfire Poetry Group.
“This year’s festival will feature over 20 excerpts from more than a dozen works by Shakespeare,” Rand said. “The selections are woven into a universal story line focusing on love. It’s going to include very unique and unexpected interpretations. From singing and dancing to spoken word and classical Shakespearean performances, there is something for everyone.”
The story revolves around two lovers, played by Mark Niebuhr and Ina Williams. Niebuhr, an alumnus of The Julliard School in New York, is a Shakespeare veteran, having worked in many professional productions throughout the U. S. and London.
He played the role of Iago in the 2007 Savannah Shakespeare Festival’s production of Othello. Williams, a Savannah College of Art and Design alumna, is an actor, singer, poet and choreographer. Her performances will feature original freestyle poetry compositions.
The “lovers” will weave in and out of the production, leading each scene into the next with a mixture of traditional and freestyle recitation.
Unique vignettes that will reveal the adaptability of Shakespeare include modern dance interpretations of scenes from “Othello” by Abeni Cultural Arts; a hip-hop influenced variation of “Romeo and Juliet” by AWOL (All Walks of Life); and scenes from “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Savannah Children’s Theatre.
Traditional Shakespeare enthusiasts will be sated with classic selections from “Twelfth Night,” “Taming of the Shrew,” “Macbeth” and “Midsummer Night’s Dream” performed by Cardinal Rep (formerly Savannah Actors Theatre). Little Theatre of Savannah will weigh in with solid performances of excerpts from “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Hamlet.”
“The scenes we have chosen to perform are representative of love at its most primal, needy, and conflicted,” said Ryan McCurdy, artistic director for Cardinal Rep. “Our interpretation may be a bit edgy, providing a modern twist to Shakespeare’s words.”
The festival will be capped by vocal performances by Ensemble Con Spirito, with two works from the Sacred Harp Hymnal, a historic song book that traces its roots back to “country parish music” of England.
A special appearance by Festival founder Jim Holt of City Lights Theatre will round out the playlist.
“There will be familiar talents as well as new,” noted Rand. “Some recognizable performers are Jamie Keena, Kelly Blackmarr, Lynita Spivey, Allan Lander and Jenn Doubleday — who will be ‘doubling up’ _ performing and directing for two different companies. Many of the new faces like Aubrey Bryant, Ryan Brown, and Ina Williams are not new to Savannah, only to the festival. We are pleased to welcome them to this multi-faceted production.”
The Savannah Shakespeare Festival is free and open to the public. The festival begins at 8 p.m. in Forsyth Park. An open dress rehearsal will be held May 16 at 8 p.m. For information and a complete listing of performances, call (9120 651-6417 or visit www.savannahga.gov/arts.