Shakespeare BCCKate Bader (center) performs a scene from “Titus Andronicus” during last year’s Shakespeare on the Lawn presentation on the campus of Brookdale Community College. The summer series returns on Thursday evening with “Measure for Measure.” (Photo by Brookdale Community College) 

Summer-Shakespeare-300x271Ask any Shakespearean scholar you happen to see: the historic incubator and natural habitat of the Bard’s classic tragedies, comedies and histories has little to do with stuffy theater boxes, scratchy formalwear, and snoozing patrons of the arts. Rather, it’s an experience that’s best realized in the open air — with un-amplified voices, improvised solos by Mother Nature’s minions, and an audience of engaged, enthusiastic (and ever so spirited) folks from all walks of life.

It’s a tradition maintained locally each year on one of the greatest, greenest spaces of the Greater Red Bank Green — and, beginning this Thursday evening, Shakespeare on the Lawn returns to the Lincroft campus of Brookdale Community College for a 15th annual edition, with a new look at William Shakespeare’s tragicomic “problem play” known as “Measure for Measure.”

Directed once again by BCC theater professor John Bukovec and boasting a cast of some 20 Brookdale Theater Club students and alumni, the Summer Shakespeare Ensemble production sets stage on the Great Lawn adjacent to the school’s Performing Arts Center building (Parking Lot 2 is recommended for attendees), for a total of eight performances distributed over two weeks.

“The story is based around hidden identities, misunderstandings, manipulation and lies, Bukovec says of the circa-1603 play, set in Vienna, where our well-meaning hero Claudio runs afoul of a legal technicality and is sentenced by treacherous and lecherous judge Angelo to part ways with his head. Through the machinations a virtuous novice nun, a sympathetic pimp, a deftly disguised duke and a headless pirate, evil Angelo is thwarted — and greater Vienna is rendered safe once more for young newlyweds and enterprising brothel madams alike.

“No one can agree whether it is a comedy, tragedy or a dark comedy,” says Bukovec, noting that the script that boasts a fair measure of illicit sexual liaisons, plus characters named Elbow, Froth, Mistress Overdone and Pompey Bum. With a climactic scene that’s been subject to interpretation among generations of directors, academics and community players,”audience members will have to come and decide for themselves,” he says.

Admission to “Measure for Measure” is free of charge, and no reservations are necessary, though attendees are encouraged to arrive early for best seating — as well as to bring their own lawn chairs, blankets and picnic-style refreshments. Snacks will also be available for purchase from the Brookdale Theater Club on site.

Performances are scheduled for Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays (July 7-9 and July 14-16) at 7 p.m., plus Sundays (July 10 and 17) at 6 p.m. Cancellations will be made in case of tempests or “cataracts and hurricanoes,” and weather-related inquiries can be directed to the PAC box office at (732) 224-2411.