Off with his head.

Our buddy William Shakespeare coined that phrase in “Richard III,” his Machiavellian history play. But the blood-and-guts sentiment applies to any number of Shakespeare plays, most famously “Macbeth.” The scene where Macbeth’s still-warm bloody head ends up on a stick and is paraded around the stage makes a lifelong, eye-popping impression on a first-time theatergoer.

This weekend, we get to see guts in all their glory in the Naked Shakespeare production of the tragic romance “Cymbeline,” on stage in the dank and dark underground of Battery Steele at Peaks Island. It kicks off a summer of Shakespeare throughout Maine, from Portland to Stonington and from Freeport to Monmouth.

Not all of the Bard plays on stage in Maine are bloody. Indeed, “Much Ado about Nothing” at both Stonington and Monmouth should be good for a laugh. “Loves Labours Lost” by the Fenix Theatre Co. at Deering Oaks also provides a comedic romp, as does “Twelfth Night” at the Freeport Shakespeare Festival.

But the summer of Shakespeare starts with the ghastly “Cymbeline,” followed soon by another downer, “King Lear” at the Theater at Monmouth.

“It’s so macabre,” director Michael Levine said with a mischievous twinkle of “Cymbeline.”

“The language includes lines like, ‘I will split him to pieces’ and things like that. And I’m happy to say that our production will include some pretty graphic elements.”

Including a severed head — fake, of course, but hauntingly real-looking — and a headless body. Levine sets the play inside and outside Battery Steele on Peaks. The battery is a World War II-era underground bunker. It’s dark and wet in there, and Levine relishes the idea of producing site-specific theater.

He has streamlined “Cymbeline” into 11 scenes. In stripping the play down to about one-third of its normal length, Levine has retained the darkest elements of Shakespeare’s vision.

He jettisoned much of the fluff and retained the scenes that play on the least admirable impulses of human nature, including seduction, death, deceit, vice and betrayal, all of which Shakespeare included in abundance in “Cymbeline.”

But what may be most notable about this show is the setting. Levine has chosen the concrete Battery Steele because he thinks the underground nature of the space fits well with the seedy character of the play. “‘Cymbeline’ is really visceral and rough, and this is a very rough space,” he said.

The play will unfold in a non-linear fashion. Instead of sitting down to watch the production, the audience will move in and out of Battery Steele and experience scenes while walking through the tunnels and chambers. The scenes will be cycled through three times over a three-hour period.

The story will begin outside of the battery. An actor will greet the audience as it arrives on site, and lay the groundwork of the story. The audience will then move into the battery. In each room along a long tunnel, actors will present individual scenes out of sequence.

The idea is for the audience to move among the rooms in any order. None of the scenes last longer than five minutes.

Because “Cymbeline” is a less familiar Shakespeare play, Levine thinks he has the right piece of literature to work with. Most audience members will be unfamiliar with the story, so the fractured nature of the presentation may not throw them off.

“It’s like a treasure hunt. You wander through and see what’s going on and what you can find,” he said.

The key, he added, is for people to pay attention. At the end of the day, the main issues in the play will be resolved and the major questions answered.

To wit: How and why does Cloten lose his head?

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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