Leonore Overture

collects the music and arts criticism of Keith Powers

Artist director Robert Walsh talks about 2019 Gloucester Stage Company's season.

Gloucester Stage Company’s artistic director Robert Walsh.

Gloucester Stage Company’s artistic director Robert Walsh.

When Bob Walsh makes decisions, it matters.

The artistic director of the Gloucester Stage Company, now entering his fifth year in charge, is not the only one who decides what plays fit into GSC’s jam-packed summer schedule. But he answers for the choices.

“The stakes are high on every show,” he says, “we need everything to garner as much favorable box office as possible.”

Looking at this season, which opens June 7 with Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park,” it seems like Walsh has played a winning hand.

Simon’s evergreen comedy gets followed by the equally recognizable “The 39 Steps,” the espionage classic made famous by Alfred Hitchcock’s film. Great plays by Richard Strand (“Ben Butler,” in August) and Karen Zacarias (October’s comedy “Native Gardens”) sandwich the September return of Lindsay Crouse in “The Lifespan of a Fact.” The Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s director Christopher Edwards leads a staging of “Hamlet” to close the season in November.

It’s an impressive, alluring lineup. “I have to put them through the litmus test,” Walsh says; “these are the plays that inspired me.”

A lot rides on the six-performance subscription season, but GSC keeps the lights on the Gorton Theatre for much more than the main-stage productions. The NeverDark reading series has taken on the aspect of a “hot manuscript” workshop, with last year’s “My Station in Life”—Ken Riaf’s portrait of radioman Simon Geller, which won a prestigious Elliot Norton award—not the only winner to emerge from the popular Tuesday evening reading series.

“Sometimes, since you have to have gangbusters, you can’t always do as much pure art,” Walsh says, “it’s not realistic. But at least the NeverDark series gives me the opportunity to go down a slightly different path.” A dozen readings begin on June 25 with Glen Berger’s “Underneath the Lintel.”

Closing with “Hamlet” represents GSC’s deepest venture into the “shoulder season,” closing Nov. 17.

“I’m hoping a younger group for this Shakespeare,” Walsh, who was a also founding member of Actors’ Shakespeare Project, says. “We’ll have matinees, and school groups. I’m going down a slightly different path for this, trying to stage a ‘Hamlet’ that has immediacy, that’s more accessible, where the language is clear. I’m hoping it opens up a Shakespeare thing for us.”

The Gloucester Stage Company begins its 40th season on June 7 with Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park” at the Gorton Theatre, 267 East Main St., Gloucester. For tickets and information visit www.gloucesterstage.com or call 978-281-4433.

Keith Powers covers music and the arts for GateHouse Media and WBUR’s ARTery. Follow @PowersKeith; email to keithmichaelpowers@gmail.com.

Gloucester Stage Company’s 2019 season at a glance

“Barefoot in the Park,” by Neil Simon

June 7–30

Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley starred in 1963 Broadway opener.

“The 39 Steps”

July 5–July 28

Bob Walsh directs spy classic.

“Ben Butler,” by Richard Strand

Aug. 2–Aug. 25

Director Joe Discher also led 2016 Broadway premiere. 

“The Lifespan of a Fact”

Aug. 30–Sept. 22

Lindsay Crouse returns to GSC for this timely hit; long Broadway ended this January.

“Native Gardens,” by Karen Zacarias

Sept. 27–Oct. 20

Neighbor couples, and a fence; popular contemporary comedy 

“Hamlet,” by William Shakespeare

Oct. 25–Nov. 17

“We’ve never had Shakespeare at the Gloucester Stage Company,” Walsh says.

All performances are at the Gorton Theatre, 267 E. Main St., Gloucester. For tickets, and information about the NeverDark series and other GSC special events, visit www.gloucesterstage.com or call 978-281-4433.

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