It's "...in the Park" season again.
The most anticipated show of the grass-sitting season doesn't open until mid-July—that'd be (Star) Trek in the Park, with Atomic Arts' production of the classic episode "Amok Time." In the meantime, the venerable Portland Actors Ensemble, now in their 40th season, is currently running what is no doubt an earnest and upright King Lear (see portlandactors.com for locations). And the newcomers at the Original Practice Shakespeare Fest (Ops Fest) tackle A Midsommer Nights Dreame, with an approach inspired by the ways that plays were produced in Shakespeare's time.
An actor explains the deal before Ops Fest's performance: Back in the good old days when theater was a legitimate means of popular entertainment, new shows ran constantly, leaving little time for rehearsal; actors didn't memorize their roles, nor did they receive copies of the script, but they performed using scrolls on which were written only their lines and their cues. Ops Fest does their best to keep alive this seat-of-the-pants spirit—actors don't find out until immediately before the show which role they'll be playing, and each actor reads their lines from a scroll. A prompter in a referee costumes sits on the sidelines with a copy of the script, providing lines when necessary and generally keeping the actors on track.
The result is an unabashedly silly take on A Midsummer Night's Dream. The company in effect makes a deal with the audience at the show's beginning: The cast, trained actors all, will abandon the scant dignity their profession permits, as well as the comforts of rehearsal, memorization, and any modicum of predictability. The audience, in exchange, will adjust the bar on their expectations of Shakespeare. Ops Fest's version of A Midsummer Night's Dream is meant to be, first and foremost, entertaining—a fun, silly way of whiling away a sunny afternoon. One assumes that a reverence for Shakespeare's language is somewhere on the list of reasons why Ops Fest is performing the show in the first place, but coherence is the first thing to go, cheerfully shoved under the freewheeling bus that is this production. What remains? Slapstick humor, improvised dance numbers, comedically flubbed lines, and a good-spirited production that does its best to keep its audience thoroughly entertained. Approach it in the spirit in which it's intended—and pack drinks, snacks, and something comfy to sit on—and you're in for a goofily charming afternoon.