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Outdoor Shakespeare This Summer: 'Pericles,' 'Love's Labour's Lost,' 'Hamlet' And...

Yes, Shakespeare has lurked in more than a few castles and dungeons. But most of the bard’s plays celebrate the outdoors — and in the summertime, that’s where you’re most likely to find them. It makes it that much easier to imagine the windswept mountains of “Hamlet” or the many dangerous locations visited by Pericles, the waterlogged Prince of Tyre.

Let Shakespeare be your outdoor-activities counselor this summer.

‘Pericles’

There was a time when the misshapen adventure drama “Pericles” was the dirtiest dog in the Shakespeare stable.

The script has never been taken particularly seriously — not even by Shakespeare scholars, who deduced that the bard had likely not even written its first two acts. Some critics lump “Pericles” in with “Troilus and Cressida” and “Measure for Measure” as one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays, called out for their inherent structural and tonal inconsistencies.

Yet “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” — named for its seafaring hero, who’s fleeing an assassin because he’s figured out a sexual scandal involving the King Antiochus — sails on.

Clearly ripe for reconsideration, “Pericles” offers old-fashioned escapism in an epic globe-trotting adventure rife with romance, danger and natural disasters.

“It doesn’t read well at all,” says David McCamish, who’s directing “Pericles” for Capital Classics’ Greater Hartford Shakespeare Festival July 12 to 29 on the grounds of the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford.

“But it plays on stage very well. It visits every part of Shakespeare’s world. It travels around four continents, none of them Europe.”

“It’s a fun romantic comedy, with pirates, evil kings, a brothel…,” McCamish says. There are also some repellent aspects, including royal incest, which caused the director to make strong clear choices. “Life is full of ickiness. We don’t shy away from that. We make it monstrous.”

Capital Classics, which has been performing Shakespeare productions since 1991, tends to use simple sets and props so as not to distract from the natural feel of the outdoors. The various locales in “Pericles” — Tyre, Pentapolis, Ephesus, Mytilene, Tarsus, the open sea — will be suggested by their inhabitants’ costumes, McCamish says.

“This is an ensemble-based production, where 15 actors are creating the environment. Most of the actors are onstage the whole time.” The actors even combine to create the illusion of boat. Puppets are also used in the show, and there are two musicians. The performances are enhanced by pre-show lectures, concerts and picnicking.

The Greater Hartford Shakespeare Festival performs “Pericles, Prince of Tyre,” directed by David McCamish, July 12 to 29 on the grounds of the University of St. Joseph, 1678 Asylum Ave., West Hartford. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $18, $12 for students, seniors and children. Children under 6 are free. 860-231-5555, capitalclassics.org.

A Second ‘Pericles’ And ‘Romeo And Juliet’

Another “Pericles” setting sail this summer is similarly ensemble-based and also has a design sense driven by costumes rather than large set pieces.

The Shakespeare Academy at Stratford is a summer program that brings young theater students from around the world to perform Shakespeare outdoors on the grounds of the old American Shakespeare Festival theater.

Brian McManamon, the New York-based actor, director and teacher (who plays Clayface on the TV series “Gotham”) has been the academy’s artistic director for the past three years. The students perform two shows in repertory.

This year, McManamon is directing “Romeo and Juliet,” set in 17th century Stratford and using “an alley configuration in a grove of trees near the water.”

A guest director, Emily Mendelsohn, is helming “Pericles.” Mendelsohn suggests that “‘Pericles’ is about the power of story. We’re interested in standing at the site of this old gathering place to rehearse imagining kind futures in the midst of stormy times.”

“There are several levels of storytelling” in “Pericles,” McManamon says. So much so, he says, that “we pretty much scrap the first two acts” — those that feature the incest allegations.

This year’s Shakespeare Academy company of 14 actors includes some from “Mexico, Singapore, London, two kids from Yale, and kids from liberal arts colleges all over the country,” McManamon says. All 14 actors appear in both shows.

“One of the fun things is thinking about how the two shows will pair, how they speak to each other.”

Shakespeare Academy at Stratford, 1850 Elm St., performs “Pericles,” directed by Emily Mendelsohn, July 28 and 30 and Aug. 1 and 3 at 6:30 p.m. and Aug. 4 at 2 p.m.; and “Romeo and Juliet,” directed by Brian McManamon, July 29 and Aug. 2, 4 and 5 at 8 p.m. Admission is free, but seating is limited so reservations are required. (Lawn chairs and blankets are not permitted.) shakespeareacademystratford.org.

‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’

The biggest outdoor Shakespeare company in the state, New Haven’s Elm Shakespeare Company, did “Pericles” in 2014 — the same year that another company, Hudson Shakespeare, brought its touring production of that same once-obscure play to the Stratford Public Library.

This year, from Aug. 16 through Sept. 2 in Edgerton Park on the Hamden/New Haven line, the Elm Shakespeare Company is producing the comedy “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” done last summer by Capital Classics. It’s a far cry from “Pericles”: in “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” a group of male scholars vow to swear off women so they can devote themselves to their studies.

The company is setting “Love’s Labour’s Lost” in the late 19-teens, near the start of the jazz age, says Sarah Bowles, the company’s education program manager. “One big difference this year will be the amount of live music before and during the show.”

The Elm Shakespeare Company performs “Love’s Labour’s Lost” Aug. 16 through Sept. 2 in Edgerton Park, 75 Cliff St., New Haven. Performances are Tuesday through Sunday at 8 p.m., preceded at 6:30 p.m. by music concerts. Admissions is free; donations are encouraged. Lawn chairs, blankets and picnic dinners are welcome in special seating sections. There are no reserved seats. elmshakespeare.org

More Of The Bard Outdoors

“Hamlet,” July 12 to 22, Curtain Call’s Shakespeare on the Green presentation, at the Sterling’s Farm Campus, in Stamford. July 12, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22 at 7:30 p.m. each night. Park opens for seating at 6. Free, but suggested donation of $20; $10 students. curtain-callct.com.

“The Tempest,” July 19 to 22, Connecticut Free Shakespeare, at the University of Bridgeport. Performances start at 6:30 p.m. Free, donations appreciated. Seating opens at 5:30. Please bring picnics, blankets and lawn chairs. ctfreeshakespeare.org.

“Hamlet” July 22, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, at Ridgefield Playhouse. Tickets are free but reservations recommended. ridgefieldplayhouse.org

“Hamlet,” Aug. 1 to 5, by Legacy Theatre, 7:30 p.m. on the Guilford Green. legacytheatrect.org.

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