Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Bard alfresco

The Weisenheimer never thought he'd discover anything better than Shakespeare in the park on a gorgeous summer afternoon, with a picnic basket full of goodies and a nice bottle of vino on the side. But on Sunday, August 10, we actually experienced something better: a twin bill of two of the Bard's finest, played out at Magnuson Park.

Seattle's delightful Green Stage is producing Hamlet and Twelfth Night for its 20th anniversary
season, and both are wonderful shows.

The melancholy Dane led off the afternoon's shows. Susanna Wilson directed and Shawn Law starred as Hamlet in one of our favorite performances of the role. Law was alternately angry, moody, flippant, giddy, and focused. Weisenheimer also singles out Allan Armstrong's performance as Polonius, simultaneously clueless and pompous, right up until he's mistaken for a rat behind the curtain. The photo above is of Law, at left, and Armstrong, lifted from the Green Stage Web site and shot by Ken Holmes, who is the company's producing artistic director and also treasurer of the Green Stage board.

The setting in a city park provides its challenges. Weisenheimer was wary at the start of the day's performances, wondering who would be moronic enough to bring their dog to a theater, even if it is outdoors in a city park. The several canines in attendance were pretty well behaved, after some early posturing. Magnuson Park was also apparently right under the flight pattern for Sea Tac for the day, and there was considerable seaplane activity in addition to your standard park stuff. Still, the dialog was mostly audible, and one must give the actors credit for hollering at the tops of their lungs for three hours.

Another particular challenge on this day, especially during Hamlet, was some sort of loud music fest going on in another building in or near the park. This was marginally distracting at times. I tried to put it off as constant revelry at Elsinore, and that seemed to do the trick.

Elsinore was pretty minimalist, props-wise, consisting mainly of a couple of fake stone archways closed off by some lovely purple shower curtains. I recommend them for the home. It makes on feel positively royal! The photo above, by Weisenheimer, shows Elsinore and the cast in the last act. Yes, it's Hamlet: everyone dies in the end. Dang, I forgot to include a spoiler alert!

Twelfth Night holds special significance for the Weisenheimers, who saw a performance of the play at the Seattle Rep as part of their first "big time date" early in their courtship, lo these 17 years ago. We saw it on our first trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2005, and the Rep ran it again in the fall of 2007 (in a delightful production that included superb performances by Frank X as Malvolio, David Pichette as Feste, and Nick Garrison in a gender-bending turn as Fabian. (Garrison, parenthetically within a parenthetical statement, seems to be the go-to guy for gender bending, having done an enjoyable performance as the Emcee in Cabaret at the 5th Avenue this year.))

The Green Stage production, directed by Amelia Meckler, included especially entertaining performances by Mathew Ahrens as Sir Toby Belch, Thomas Maier as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Ashley Flannegan as Fabian. The trio were zany in their taunting of Malvolio and their use of the audience as cover in several scenes. Sir Toby nearly spilled our wine, in fact. I'm surprised it didn't stop him in his tracks. Nicole Fierstein was also memorable as Olivia, grumpy and mournful at the death of her brother, but giddily head-over-heels for Nicole Vernon as Cesario who really is Viola. Meckler herself jumped in as Maria due to a last-minute "actor emergency." The fabulously named Orion Protonentis was blustery and not-that-smiley as Malvolio, but he wasn't really cross-gartered, and it's going to be a while before someone tops X's performance in the role.

Props for Twelfth Night were even more minimal than for Hamlet, just a couple of portable benches that were dragged on and off lawn -- er, stage -- when needed.

Alack and alas, you have but one more weekend to enjoy the Green Stage productions of these two great plays. Twelfth Night plays at Seward Park on Friday evening and Sunday afternoon. Hamlet plays at Volunteer Park on Friday and is the second half of the twin bill at Seward on Sunday.


Sweetie the Scorer said...

good thing the cops didn't happen by; it's illegal to drink tempranillo in city parks; we might have had to spend a night in the Seattle Municipal Jail!

Sweetie the Scorer said...

I get as grumpy as anybody about talking, candy wrappers, snoring, and for gawdsakes cell phones in indoor theaters. But I really don't get bugged by dogs, planes, kids running around, music, and all the rest at outdoor theater. It's all part of it, and it's how theater worked in Shakespeare's time (well, except for the planes and amplified bass). I really have to hand it to the actors for not missing a beat and somehow keeping their voices.

Sweetie the Scorer said...

Wassup with situating an outdoor ampitheater with the audience facing West????

In our GreenStage tour of Seattle parks so far (Lincoln Park, Magnuson, and Camp Long) Camp Long is the ROCKS!

Lisa said...

I had no idea they did Shakespeare in Magnuson Park. How cool is that????