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Like it’s 1599!: A year of Shakespeare in one night

Under the table: The cast of the Irondale Ensemble play multiple roles in “Henry V,” “As You Like It,” “Julius Caesar,” and “Hamlet,” all plays written in 1599.
Gerry Goodstein

One man in his time plays many parts — and these six actors play nearly 70!

A single epic night of theater will present four of Shakespeare’s best-known plays: “Henry V,” “Julius Caesar,” “As You Like It,” and “Hamlet.” The “1599 Project,” named for the year in which all four works made their debut, opens April 30 at the Irondale Center. The group’s artistic director says that the night will showcase Shakespeare’s creative evolution during his most productive year.

“You get to see how Shakespeare, in this nine-month period, uses language in four really different ways; how he develops story in four different ways,” said Jim Niesen.

The shows written during that year span an incredible variety of genres, including an idealistic history, political intrigue, musical comedy, and existential tragedy. The company thought about presenting the shows over multiple evenings, but decided that doing so would reduce the impact on the audience.

“If we set it up in two or three nights, people are not going to have the journey with us,” said Niesen.

Instead, brevity being the soul of wit, the show uses streamlined versions of the plays, stripped down for a six-person ensemble. Still, the evening runs nearly four hours, with two brief intermissions and a 20-minute dinner break, when audiences can enjoy a picnic onstage (leading, appropriately, into the rustic setting of “As You Like It”).

White knight: Terry Greiss, the executive director of the Irondale Center, plays many parts in the four Shakespeare plays included in the “1599 Project” opening on April 30.
Gerry Goodstein

The production will move around Irondale’s expansive theater space, with “Julius Caesar” performed in the balcony, and “Hamlet” in a confined area sectioned off by fabric. The different spaces make for a more intimate experience, says Irondale’s executive director.

“You are up close and personal to the action that’s going on,” said Terry Greiss, who also acts in the show. “When Caesar is assassinated, you’re within a hair’s breadth of that assassination. Without saying to the audience, ‘Oh, we want you to participate in the play,’ they become the Roman mob just because of where they’re standing.”

Niesen agreed that the night is about excitement, and is not just an academic exercise.

“It is not about literature or information — it’s about this amazing, alive event that’s happening in front of you,” he said. “Do not be intimidated by your bad high school experience!”

“1599 Project” at Irondale Center [85 S. Oxford St. between Lafayette Ave. and Greene Ave. in Fort Greene, (718) 488-9233, www.irondale.org]. April 30–May 28, Mon, Wed, Fri, 7 pm; Sat, 5 pm. $40 ($50 with dinner; $30 students and seniors).

His hour upon the stage: The Irondale Ensemble will present four Shakespeare plays in one night, each one lasting just under an hour.
Gerry Goodstein

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