Sunday, July 10, 2011

Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival, day 1

July is a great month to be a theater fan in Seattle. This weekend is the Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival at Volunteer Park. GreenStage, producers of the festival, and Wooden O, the outdoor arm of Seattle Shakespeare Company, will be doing their free shows around the area well into August, and 14/48, the World's Quickest Theater Festival, plays the last two weekends of the month.

My Sweetie, the official scorer, and I took in four shows on opening day. The first, a production of As You Like It by Last Leaf Productions, was ultimately unsatisfying because it was often very difficult to hear even though we were in the third row of blankets from the front. Project, actors, project! Volunteer Park is a tough venue, with no acoustics to speak of, planes and helicopters overhead, barking dogs, and playing kids.

The performance was also hampered a bit by not one, but two, understudies in the cast, particularly the key role of Orlando, who gave it a game try. It's got to be tough to perform with script in hand.

We never got a program for the show, so we can't give a shout out to good performances, but we liked the actresses who played Rosalind and Touchstone especially.

Last Leaf is based in Monroe and will be performing As You Like It and The Merchant of Venice at various Eastside and Snohomish County locales through early August.

The cast of Macbeth takes a curtain call July 9. Photo:
Greg Scheiderer.
Second up was a truly marvelous production of Macbeth put on by Wooden O. Sweetie and I agree that Reginald André Jackson's performance was the best by a Thane of Cawdor that we'd ever seen. Jackson seemed well at home with the Bard's language, and portrayed Macbeth's swings between ambition, regret, tenderness, violence, and insanity without falling into the sort of cartoonish flailing that sometimes plagues the role.

Tracy Hyland also was spectacular as Lady Macbeth, and the cast was studded with favorites such as Mike Dooly, Shawn Belyea, David Goldstein, and Carter Rodriguez.

A couple of quibbles with the production, directed by Tim Hyland. An effort to have Jackson recite the lines of the second round of witches' prophecies in sync with spooky recorded ones. It didn't work, as they never got close to being in sync. And Macbeth having to mess with the play doll at the end just turned into a distraction. But all in all, it was a great show.

Theater Schmeater gets the "family show" slot in the festival every year, this time turning in an entertaining world premiere production of Arrh! A Dinosaur Ate My Spaceship by Bret Fetzer and Juliet Waller Puzan and directed by Steve Cooper. Any show with a flatulent T-Rex (Aaron Allshouse), the creature from Alien (Kendra Pierce) who can't say "fart" because her parents are in the audience, a calorie-conscious great white shark (Anna Richardson), goofy pirates, and an insane mad scientist (Tracy Leigh) is sure to be a smash.

The cast of The Tempest takes a bow after its
performance July 9. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.
Batting cleanup for the day was the GreenStage production of The Tempest, directed by Michael D. Blum. We'd have to say this show was spot on, a delightful production with great performances from a marvelous cast. Blum has created a show that is funny, sexy, touching, and sweet. GreenStage takes their Shakespeare seriously, but not so seriously that they can't have a lot of fun with it. A great example is when Prospero, played superbly by Ken Holmes, barks a "no tongues" warning to daughter Miranda (Alyssa Kay) and suitor Ferdinand (Matthew Fulbright) as they got in some necking at stage left. Prospero and Ariel (Gina Marie Russell) use their special powers for good, not evil.

There's not a bad performance in the bunch, though in addition to Holmes and Russell we especially liked Anthony Duckett's loopy Trinculo, Daniel Wood as Stephano clad in Superman underwear (don't ask, don't tell), and Don MacEllis as a far more human Caliban than we usually see in The Tempest.

The set for the show was pretty spare, even by Shakespeare in the Park standards. Other than the brick wall of the Volunteer Park amphitheater, it consisted of one stump, and another stump with arms that served as Prospero's throne. They didn't need anything else!

We'll surely be seeing this show a couple more times before the summer is out.

A tip of the sword also to Performers' Forge, a group dedicated to the education, training, and safety of stage combat. Forge members staged fistfights, swordfights, stickfights, and general mayhem during the breaks between shows. They're good, and they teach their craft for a lot of theater companies around town, as well as doing performances of their own.


Anonymous said...

Just wanted to add a correction: While Jon-Erik Hegstad did indeed play Sebastian, it was Daniel Wood as STEPHANO, the drunken butler who wore the mentioned Super Man undies.

Mike R Denver said...

Go Holmes!