Summer of Shakespeare: 'Henry V,' 'Romeo and Juliet' unfold on local stages

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

If your summer isn't complete without taking in some Shakespeare, rejoice: Nearly all of Metro Detroit is a stage during the next few weeks.

A variety of Shakespeare productions and festivals are unfolding at once. The Michigan Shakespeare Festival, which bills itself as the state's largest Shakespeare festival, runs through Aug. 21 at Canton's Village Theater at Cherry Hill. Shakespeare Royal Oak, meanwhile, opens July 28 with a futuristic twist on the classic "Romeo & Juliet."

And Livonia's Shakespeare in the Park runs Friday through Sunday at Stymelski Veteran's Park with a more traditional version of "Romeo and Juliet."

Actor Sam Hubbard, who is co-starred in "Fargo" and HBO's "Lovecraft Country," portrays Henry V in the Michigan Shakespeare Festival's production of "Henry V" this season.

For the Michigan Shakespeare Festival, which includes "Henry V" and "The Merry Wives of Windsor" this season along with a non-Shakespeare Play, "Charley's Aunts," it's finally back for the first time since COVID hit . And this marks the festival's first time exclusively in Canton. It used to be split between Canton and Jackson.

After two years dark, "audiences are loving it," said Janice Blixt, the festival's producing artistic director. They "come from all over the state, and we pull a lot from Chicago and Toledo."

Here's what audiences can expect:

Michigan Shakespeare Festival: Started in 1995 in Jackson, the festival typically spans six weeks and is split between Canton and Jackson. But with the Jackson theater it typically uses under renovation, organizers decided to stage the entire festival this year over five weeks at Canton's 400-seat Village Theater, which has been "wonderful" in terms of drawing a wide range of actors and audiences, said Blixt.

"We have actors from Detroit, Ann Arbor and a few from Flint," she said. "It's nice to be more in a hub where people are able to come out and see our shows. And Canton has been incredibly welcoming."

Actors perform in all three plays: "Henry V," "The Merry Wives of Windsor" and "Charley's Aunt" by Brandon Thomas.

Blixt said they originally chose "Henry V" as the festival's marquis show in 2019 because it was an election year. And they contemplated picking a different play but decided to keep it because it still raises relevant issues. Sam Hubbard, who has co-starred on FX's "Fargo" and HBO's "Lovecraft Country," portrays Henry V.

"This play is really all about what makes a good leader. If a leader doesn't have empathy and doesn't believe in the rule of law...then he can't be a good leader," said Blixt. "...It's a big storytelling show."

"The Merry Wives of Windsor," meanwhile, is a comedy and probably the Bard's only domestic play with no kings, lords or ladies. This production has a 1980s, sitcom-take on it, said Blixt.

Lydia Hiller, left, is Mistress Ford and Demetria Thomas is Mistress Page in the Michigan Shakespeare Festival's production of "The Merry Wives of Windsor."

"Audiences are going crazy for it, which is hilarious," she said. "The different characters come on in different costumes which people recognize in different ways."

For tickets, show times and other information, go to https://www.michiganshakespearefestival.com/

Shakespeare Royal Oak: Imagine star-crossed lovers also dealing with the aftermath of climate change and warring factions in the famed city of Verona. That's what audiences will experience with Shakespeare Royal Oak's production of "Romeo & Juliet."

Ed Nahhat, Shakespeare Royal Oak's founder and executive director, said it was director Stephanie Buck's idea to set the Shakespeare classic in a future world, wondering if audience might better project themselves into a future post-apocalyptic world rather than one set in the 15th century. It features complicated stage combat choreographed by Michael Brian Ogden.

"We’re not changing the words in the play," said Nahhat. "We're just changing what it looks like."

The production runs for two weekends, July 28 through Aug. 7, in Royal Oak's Starr Jaycee Park, 1321 W. 13 Mile Road. Tickets are $30. A VIP fundraiser Friday will include special tent with wine and charcuterie; photos on the Shakespeare Royal Oak stage; and more. Go to https://shakespeareroyaloak.com/.

Livonia's Shakespeare in the Park: A partnership between Livonia Community Theater and Livonia Parks and Recreation, Livonia's Shakespeare in the Park is staging a more traditional production of "Romeo & Juliet" Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

All performances are free at Stymelski Veteran's Park, 14407 Stark Road. For information, go to https://www.facebook.com/LivoniaShakespeare.

mfeighan@detroitnews.com