MIDDLETOWN: BRUSH UP YOUR SHAKESPEARE

The Navesink Arts Center, home of the Monmouth Players, is the setting for an evening (and a couple of afternoons) with William Shakespeare beginning Saturday.

Despite its claim as the area’s longest established theatrical company — having first “put on a show” back in 1953, well before the involvement of any of its current principals — the Monmouth Players have not been ones to stay snug in their comfort zone of their Middletown beginnings.

Under producers Paul and Lori Renick, the company has continued to challenge the local audience with projects that have ranged from offbeat and edgy, to as literary-minded as the former library in which they make their home.

Among those offerings have been a recently minted series of late-summer “Evening with…” presentations that focus on a single author, and that serve in their own modestly mounted way as an appetizer for the troupe’s mainstage season that kicks off in September.

Beginning this Saturday and continuing with four performances over two weekends, the players turn the key on the Navesink Arts Center in Middletown for a program that celebrates the words and works of a playwright that you might be familiar with: one William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon.

As with their previous summertime salutes to Tennessee Williams and Thornton Wilder, the company will offer up a smorgasbord of selections from the canon of the iconic Bard — although, since Shakespeare wasn’t exactly known for penning concise little one-act playlets, the emphasis this time will be on famous soliloquies and scenes from such essentials as Romeo and Juliet, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Hamlet, Macbeth, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Melanie Taylor, a Shakespearean scholar and enthusiast, will be delivering a synopsis and explanation of each excerpted piece.

It all takes place in the intimate setting of the beautifully restored, book-lined lobby reading room of the landmark that once did duty as the Navesink Library (go here for our 2013 feature on the rescue and repurposing of the historic building at 149 Monmouth Avenue), with the players’ justifiably famous spread of homemade desserts, coffee and tea sweetening the deal as always.

Performances of An Evening with William Shakespeare are at 8:15 p.m. on August 19 and 26, with 2 p.m. Sunday matinees on August 20 and 27. All tickets are $15, and required reservations can be made by calling (732)291-9211 or visiting the Monmouth Players website, where you’ll also find info on the fast-approaching 2017-2018 season of entertainments.