at the IFCC
at Mago Hunt Center/ University of Portland
Two brand new Portland theater companies, Vader Ryderwood Productions and Quintessence, premiered last weekend, each doing Shakespeare. Vader Ryderwood was started by Pacific University prof Edwin Collier, and claims to focus on "presenting young actors and fresh faces to the Portland theatre scene." This statement is code for "Edwin Collier's Pacific University Extension Theatre," as a good 90 percent of the cast and crew are either current or future alumni of the college. Is Pacific known for its theater program? No. Is there a reason for that? Yes. Is it even fair for me to review a production that has a lot of heart, but is composed primarily of non-professionals and students, and that obviously has limited financial resources? No. The play is Twelfth Night. The company exists. If you're a fan of Pacific University theater, then I imagine you will not be disappointed.
Much more can be said about Quintessence, a promising new group that has wrangled in some of Portland's finest actors. Quintessence claims to have a longer rehearsal process, so as to dig deeper into its selected text. The fruits of that process are not particularly evident in their current production of Henry V, but elements of high energy and creativity are. With no set, virtually no light or sound design, the barest of props, and only nine actors, Quintessence has dared to stage one of Shakespeare's vastest--it clocks in with a whopping 29 roles--war histories.
The result is compelling primarily because it's fun to see how they are going to pull it off. They don't, but they come closer than I expected them to, which bodes well for future shows, when hopefully they will choose plays that are a bit easier to put on. They would have trouble choosing a play more difficult than Henry V, which concludes, for all you Shakespeare fans, the trilogy that begins with parts one and two of Henry IV. In this installment, we find Henry V--the misguided Prince Hal in the first two--leading England in a war against France.
Henry V is a complicated character because of his sordid past, which included traipsing about with drunks like the infamous John Falstaff before ascending to the throne. Now, Henry is ready to take his kingly duties seriously, which means that an actor playing him must have the amiable nature that allows him to connect with the common man, but also the ferocious intelligence of a great leader. The actor playing him here, Stephan Henry, fails to bring such a combination to his performance. Mr. Henry has fine comic timing, and is certainly likeable, but lacks the stern power needed to make his leadership qualities believable. He seems too goofy somehow, too befuddled; both qualities that are reflected in the rest of the company, which handles all the comic scenes quite nicely, but can't seem to get their teeth around the more dramatic moments. In these moments, Quintessence's commitment to language and performance, above all else, works against them. For with no technical innovations to distract, the audience has nothing to focus on but a tiny cast overwhelmed by the power of the Bard.
But this is a company with some guts, and I admire everything they have tried to do in this production. I can't recommend Henry V, but I can advise you to follow Quintessence closely, for they are only going to get better.