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Posted: January 27, 2009 6:52 p.m.

Shakespeare in the South

The only thing I regret about my experience this weekend at the New American Shakespeare Tavern in Midtown is that I waited two-and-a-half years to have it.

Though I had heard about the Shakespeare Tavern not too long after first moving to the Atlanta area, it wasn’t until Friday that I finally learned what all of the hype was about – the Atlanta Shakespeare Company is truly a treasure of the city and if you haven’t taken in a play there recently or have never gone before, now is the time to go.

Though I caught one of the last showings of the company’s production of Doctor Faustus (it was fantastic) by Christopher Marlowe (a contemporary of Shakespeare) the next production at the tavern is arguably Shakespeare’s most famous – Romeo & Juliet. Though one wouldn’t think it, the company’s artistic director, Jeffrey Watkins, says the way the company presents it is quite comical.

A nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, the Shakespeare Company has been putting on performances in Atlanta for 20 years. Several years ago the tavern went through major renovations, which added a new balcony, a fully equipped kitchen and greatly expanded the seating room. Even with the renovations, viewing a play at the tavern is still a casual and intimate experience between actor and audience.

Staged much like the plays were originally shown by Shakespeare at the London Globe Theater during the Elizabethan Era, the audience is seated in a full or semi-circle around the actors who alternately perform in the center of the floor or on a small upraised stage. Costumes are in the ruffled Elizabethan style and the sets are minimal. The actors make use of the entire theater, walking amongst the audience and making use of the second floor balcony and catwalk.

Interaction with audience members is not uncommon and new visitors to the tavern are warned to turn off their cell phones before the show begins or they will be made the object of merciless ridicule by the actors.

Prior to shows at the tavern, the audience can feast on traditional English fare such as Cornish Pasty or Shepherd’s Pie. All items are affordably priced. Food is served cafeteria style from one hour and fifteen minutes before the start of the show. Food service ends five minutes before show time though dessert and beverages are available during intermission.

Romeo & Juliet will run from Jan. 31 through March 1. Next the company will present Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales from March 7-29.

General admission is $12. Tickets must be purchased in advance and can be bought online at shakespearetavern.com or by phone by calling (404) 874-5299. Shows tend to sell out on Fridays and Saturdays at least two days before the performance. The Shakespeare Tavern is located at 499 Peachtree St NE, four blocks south of the Fox Theatre.

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