Aug. 11 2009 12:00 AM

Updating and altering classic works is a time-honored tradition. From Shakespeare’s lifting of ancient storylines to more recent examples, such as the Bard’s “The Taming of the Shrew” becoming “10 Things I Hate About You,” putting a new spin on an old story never seems to go out of style. Two shows opening this week in Greater Lansing share a similar impulse.

‘Romeo and Juliet’ as comic relief

“Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet),” by Anne Marie McDonald, follows a graduate student writing her thesis on how “Romeo and Juliet” and “Othello” are actually comedies that Shakespeare stole from another writer and turned into tragedies. It opens July 16 at Riverwalk Theatre.

Director Jeff Croff said the altered look at well-known plays was part of what interested him in the show. “Im not generally a Shakespeare fan,” Croff said. “I tend to like more contemporary works, but this one kind of takes that very familiar thing we had in school and turns it on its ear a bit. We all studied ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ and many of us are familiar with ‘Othello,’ and this is a chance to take a look at it with an entirely new lens.”

As the play goes along, the main character becomes a part of “Othello” and “Romeo and Juliet.” She then begins interacting with them and influencing how the action plays out, affecting the actors performing the play within a play. “There are only five actors who end up playing about 15 parts, as we bounce around through different stories and such,” Croff said. “Part of what happens is, much like in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ people who Dorothy has in her real life become characters or entities within it. You keep getting a glimpse of those original characters throughout.”

“Good Night Desdemona (Good morning Juliet).” 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through July 26. Riverwalk Theatre, 228 Museum Drive. $10-$14. (517) 482-5700.

Wilde goes mod

“The Importance of Being Earnest,” Oscar Wildes most famous play, premiered in 1895. Capital TheaterWorks (the performing company at Ledges Playhouse) is doing an updated version of it set some 70 years later, in the mod ‘60s. Kevin Burnham, the play’s director, said that one of the reasons for moving the play into the ‘60s was that it was a shift to another prominent period in Londons history.

Burnham said the company tried to maintain a balance in its version of the show. “We have updated some of the references to make them fit in better with the period,” Burnham said. “Our Jack even has a little Beatles haircut, that sort of thing. Were not imposing the ‘60s on the story, were letting the mod ‘60s be the backdrop.”

“The Importance of Being Earnest.” 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday 2 p.m. Sunday through July 26. Capital TheaterWorks, Ledges Playhouse, 133 Fitzgerald Park Drive, Grand Ledge. FREE. (517) 944- 0221. www.capitaltheaterworks.org.

Ramblin’ man

'The life and music of country music legend Hank Williams is the subject of the latest in Lansing Community College’s Summer Stage Under the Stars series.

Derek Smith, a musician whose resume includes leading local honky-tonk revivalists Honest D and the Steel Reserves, will play the part of Williams, backed by a group of local musicians.

“Hank Williams: Lost Highway.” 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, July 15-18. LCC outdoor amphitheater, downtown Lansing. FREE. (517) 483-1488. www.lcc.edu/hpa/ events.

Dance, dance revolution

For some heavy fun, stop in at the Ruhala Performing Arts Center next week, when director and choreographer Mark Ruhala reprises his new dance piece “Z,” before taking it to New York.

“Z” is a musical about the whole of human progression, with a focus on the aftermath of the financial collapse. It features a critical eye on the financial structure, the media, American citizens and those in power who cover up the truth by calling it a conspiracy. Its also about the interconnectedness of all things and the power of collective understanding. Oh yeah, and its a comedy!

“Z.” 7:30 p.m. July 22 & 23. Ruhala Performing Arts center, 1846 Haslett Road, East Lansing. $12. (517) 337-0464. www. ruhalacenter.com.