The Northwest Classical Theatre Company at the Terry Schrunk Federal Plaza, SW Third & Jefferson, 274-4771, Saturday 3:30 pm, through August 30, FREE
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Portland Actors Ensemble at Mt. Hood Community College August 23-24, at Reed College August 30-September 1; 321-0710 for more info, all shows begin at 3 pm, FREE
Until last weekend, I'd made it through nearly a quarter of a century of life without seeing a single Free Outdoor Shakespeare Production (FOSP). I guess I just always assumed that because they are free they would be, well, bad. What kind of hack company can afford to not charge for its productions? Any respectful company with a modicum of quality must have expenses... right?
Not necessarily, at least when it comes to Northwest Classical Theatre's Henry VI (and that's Henry the SIXTH, not Henry the FOURTH). Indeed, this production's very lack of pomp is what makes it so very enjoyable. Playing down in the Terry Schrunk Plaza's mini-amphitheater, Henry VI is Bard theater in its purest form; a ragtag cast of actors on a makeshift stage on a random city block, spouting the most beautiful words ever penned in English to whoever will listen.
The rule with Shakespeare is that if you haven't heard of it or seen it performed before, there's usually a reason why (see Pericles and Timon of Athens). But for being such an obscure work, Henry VI is an amazingly interesting show. It has bloody battles between the English and the French; it has sinister plots to overthrow Henry VI, who is barely old enough to have pubic hair; and it even has Joan of Arc as a main character!
The best reason to see this production is simply because it's a rare chance to see a cool play that, for one reason or another, is rarely done. Another reason is for the performances. Scot Carson, as the fiery British warrior Lord Talbot, is straight out of Lord of the Rings, with his long hair and chain mail. Robyn Coffey has some nice line readings as his nemesis Joan of Arc, but her body language is a bit hesitant, and so it's hard to buy her as a vicious killer. The happiest surprise here is Gildevin Jagudajev as the young Henry VI. The kid handles the difficult language with smooth restraint, and even more impressively, subtle humor. He seems wise and weary beyond his years; a remarkable feat for a young actor.
The Terry Schrunk Plaza afforded a cool, relatively peaceful FOSP, which was in stark contrast to the Portland Actors Ensemble's exuberant Shakespeare in the Parks production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Gabriel Park in Southwest Portland. The Ensemble definitely does not suffer from a lack of expenses. The company has beautiful costumes, and what must be an amazing publicity crew--the audience of families and dogs was absolutely huge.
Dream's director, John Monteverde, is a NW Children's Theater veteran, and has jam-packed this production with young'uns. He has even cast a child in the substantial role of Puck, a brave move that basically pays off. Sean Roney, with his impish cheekbones and dark hair, looks the part to a T, though his little voice can be hard to hear sometimes. Overall, though, Roney's performance, like Jagudajev's, is amazingly sophisticated. It's also helped tremendously by Michael Cook's boisterous turn as Puck's boss Oberon, the King of the Fairies. Cook and Roney have a nice chemistry; they seem more like two brothers than a lord and his minion, and it works.
PAE's production of Dream is loaded with slapstick humor, which is well done, but gets tiresome after a while. The human lovers (Jessica Snyder, Kyle Virding, Bryce Wescott, and Aimee Ankeny) who get so famously screwed over by the fairies, scream at each other incessantly with nary a pitch variety. But at the very least, everyone seems to be having fun.
Fans of A Midsummer Night's Dream will enjoy this production, but find nothing new in it. Fans of Shakespeare in general will find all sorts of new things at Henry VI, if only because it's likely they've never seen a production of that play, period. But really, there's no reason not to see both these plays. They don't cost anything and they're in public spaces, which means you can leave if you're really that miserable. And what's more, in spite of my 25-year ignorance and neglect, they're actually pretty good. J.W. SANDERS