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A new season and a new stage for Shakespeare in Delaware Park

Chronic latecomers to Shakespeare in Delaware Park who have had to settle for a patch of grass with an obstructed view have no further reason to worry.

Thanks to a $1.2 million refurbishment project, a much wider swath of the picturesque hill where the company performs will be available to theatergoers this season, which opens with “The Winter’s Tale” on June 23. “The Taming of the Shrew,” a comedy, will follow, with performances from July 28 to Aug. 21.

Gone are the hulking metal towers supporting ancient lighting rigs and speakers. Gone is the old steel stage, replaced with a lightweight aluminum and wood contraption that can be erected in half the time and set up in three different configurations.

The merchandise and lighting booths also have been refreshed.

The updates are aimed at giving the storied theater company a new look for its 41st season.

Company founder and “Winter’s Tale” director Saul Elkin, who said a crew installed the stage in little more than a week, praised the new configuration as more welcoming to hill dwellers.

“For one thing, the seating space has been broadly expanded,” Elkin said, noting that light and sound towers have been relocated to the top of the hill. “The hill is much more of a wide-open bowl than it ever was before, which is going to make it possible for lots more people to have better sight-lines.”

The new configuration also will feature updated lighting technology, which Elkin said will provide more opportunities for creative lighting design, a key element to ramping up the drama in outdoor Shakespeare productions.

“There is a very mystical and mysterious moment at the end of ‘The Winter’s Tale’ that really cries for creative lighting and we’re going to be able to do it because it’ll be dark by that point,” he said.

And mysticism is part and parcel of Shakespeare’s late play, a psychological drama most people know only for containing the most famous stage direction in all of Shakespeare: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”

The play deals with the manic jealousy of Sicilian King Leontes (Matt Witten) over the imagined romantic escapades of his wife, Hermione (Jenn Stafford). Later, the play turns more lighthearted and humorous, introducing what Elkin called one of Shakespeare’s great comic characters, the thief Autolycus (Jordan Levin).

Elkin chose the little-studied play for the first Shakespeare in Delaware Park production more than 40 years ago, and has included it three times since. He said his affinity for it grew out of an urge to make his mark as a young director with a piece few people knew.

“I thought if I do ‘Hamlet’ or ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ everybody will know it and nobody will know the Winter’s Tale,” he said. “I think it turns out to be true.”

Inspired by a recent Royal Shakespeare Company production of the play, Elkin set his version mostly in modern dress, and chose not to edit out references to ancient mysticism. Those choices might appear to conflict with one another. But in an atmosphere where many are exploring and questioning their belief systems, he said, it makes a certain kind of sense.

“It doesn’t trouble me,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like an anachronism that we are suddenly sending a messenger off to Delphos and the oracle of Apollo to get the answer to a critical question in the play. It seems to work.”

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com