The British are coming to Monmouth.
In fact, they’ve arrived.
This summer at the Theater at Monmouth, theater-goers will get a double-dose of Shakespeare, the comedy “As You Like It” that opens the season July 10, and a streamlined version of “Romeo and Juliet” that emphasizes the balance between fate and choice, opening July 24.
There are two other plays in the repertory season by English playwrights: Oscar Wilde’s “A Woman of No Importance” and Joe Orton’s “What the Butler Saw.” The children’s show is “Tales from the Blue Fairy Book” by Australian playwright Luke Bartholomew.
When conceiving the season, producing artistic director Dawn McAndrews knew she wanted two Shakespeare titles. This year marks the 450th birthday of William Shakespeare and the 45th season for the Theater at Monmouth, which the Legislature designated the Shakespearean Theater of Maine nearly 40 years ago.
Tradition counts for something here, so McAndrews extended the British theme to the other titles.
“It pushed me into a little hyper-focus on Anglophile and Shakespeare,” she said. “These are all plays that people know and plays that people want to come and see again.”
She also tapped experienced directors to handle the shows. McAndrews is taking on “Romeo and Juliet” herself, and hired Catherine Weidner to direct “As You Like It.” Weidner teaches Shakespeare and classical acting at Ithaca College.
She hired Good Theater co-founder and artistic director Brian Allen to direct the sex-farce “What the Butler Saw,” which opens July 31, and former Broadway actor and Maine resident Will Rhys to direct “A Woman of No Importance,” opening July 17.
She chose Wilde’s “A Woman of No Importance” because she cannot imagine that “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes was not influenced by this play when he dreamed up his TV show.
“It’s such a great melodrama, and we always deliver one big costume drama each year,” McAndrews said. “When I read ‘A Woman of No Importance,’ I thought that Julian must have used it as a basis for what to put in ‘Downton Abbey.’ ”
As for “What the Butler Saw,” who can resist the humor and sexual overtones of actors in various forms of undress in this farcical romp?
And who better to direct one than Allen, whose Good Theater comedies are notable for their timing and breezy style?
Orton spoofs British society as Shakespeare did, but without the verse. It’s intellectual and accessible.
But first up is Shakespeare.
Weidner directed “Two Gentlemen of Verona” two seasons ago at Monmouth. She is back because she enjoyed the experience and loves Maine.
She sets “As You Like It” in the 1940s, and gives the comedy a decidedly female influence. In her hands, the women in this play are the solvers. The audience will see them coming of age and driving the show.
That device is merely a way to emphasize the message of the play, which in Weidner’s view is the importance of enjoying life and being true to yourself.
“I think this play is about how you value who you are, and that what you have is immaterial,” she said. “(Many of) the characters in this play have nothing, but they have a good life. It’s about finding value in the life you have.”
Weidner is including the epilogue. “As You Like It” often is performed without the epilogue, during which all the characters get married.
She’s created a twist for the ending that’s very modern.
We don’t give it away, but it fits within Weidner’s theme, “The God of love is within us all.”
WHEN: The repertory season opens Thursday and continues through Aug. 24.
PLAYS: “As You Like It,” July 10-Aug. 23; “A Woman of No Importance,” July 17-Aug. 23; “Romeo and Juliet,” July 24-Aug. 24; “What the Butler Saw,” July 31-Aug. 22
WHERE: Cumston Hall, 796 Main St., Monmouth
HOW MUCH: $30, $27 seniors, $20 students
INFO & TICKETS: 933-9999 or theateratmonmouth.org
There’s plenty of Shakespeare in Maine this summer, from Kennebunk to Portland to Stonington. Much of it is free and outdoors.