By Laura Williams   Published Nov 04, 2004 at 5:18 AM

{image1}Born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare has a home in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Shakespeare opened its fifth season with "The Comedy of Errors" Oct. 29. The season continues with "Julius Caesar" in late February and early March of 2005, and "The Merchant of Venice" in late April and early May.

Formerly known as "Milwaukee Shakespeare Company," the troupe changed its name this year in order to describe more accurately its approach.

"Our new name better reflects the mission of Milwaukee Shakespeare," says Paula Suozzi, artistic director. "We are the only theater company in Milwaukee dedicated to performing Shakespeare's works, and plan to use high-caliber talent from a wide range of sources, rather than taking a 'company' approach."

Suozzi has brought in three out-of-town directors to helm the productions. Susan Finque, co-artistic director of Seattle's Alice B. Theater for 10 years, will direct "The Comedy of Errors." Eleanor Holdridge, resident director at The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C., will direct "Julius Caesar." Finally, Tony Award nominee David Chambers will direct "The Merchant of Venice."

"After deciding on our directors for this season," Suozzi says, "I did realize that two of the three were women. It wasn't a conscious decision. I did interviews and found my way to what I thought was the correct setup for the season."

"Traditionally directing has been a man's world," Suozzi continues. "Even 20 years ago it was rare to encounter women directors everywhere. However, I think the trend is reversing significantly. Here in Milwaukee, I have experienced a great open field for women directing."

The trio of directors will be joined by a number of local favorites, including Jonathan Gillard Daly, best known for his performance as Scrooge in the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre's annual production of "A Christmas Carol."

On Nov. 3, it was announced that Stuart Jasper will step down as managing director of the theater company. The board of directors will immediately begin a national search for a new managing director, and Jasper, will return to his native city of Philadelphia for a position with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He has served as Milwaukee Shakespeare’s first managing director since July of 2002.

This year's plays represent the range of Shakespeare's work. "The Comedy of Errors" is the quintessential Shakespearean comedy, involving two sets of identical twins separated at birth and endless possibilities for mistaken identity gags. "Julius Caesar" shows Shakespeare at his finest politically, offering a meditation on loyalty, treachery and absolute power. And "The Merchant of Venice" serves up timeless insights into the roles of race and money in a just society.

The differences among the works present an interesting set of challenges for the company.

"The 2004-2005 season for Milwaukee Shakespeare is our most innovative yet," says Suozzi. "Tackling 'The Merchant of Venice' in any season is a challenge, but thrown in with political drama of 'Julius Caesar' and the completely different 'The Comedy of Errors,' it makes for a fun set of twists and turns for our patrons."

"The Comedy of Errors" runs through Nov. 14. For more information, performance schedules and tickets, call the UWM Peck School Box Office at (414) 229-4308, Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.