Shakespeare

OOPS. HERE IT IS A WEEK into December, and you’ve still got that shopping stuff to do. You sort of thought this would be the year you bought local – you know, support the place you live in sort of thing – but it’s all a bit confusing, and you’re really not sure where to start.

Hannah Wells 8 x 8-inch artwork in “The Big 500.”

So let us introduce you to The Big 500, an all-local, all-art, low-cost and accessible event produced by “people’s artists” Chris Haberman and Jason Brown and sprawling across the Ford Gallery in the Ford Building, 2505 Southeast 11th Avenue. Now in its ninth year, The Big 500 is actually more than that – 500+ Portland area artists, each creating 8 x 8 inch pieces on wood panels, each piece for sale for $40. More than 5,000 works will be on hand, and besides putting some cash in local artists’ pockets, the event raises money for the Oregon Food Bank, which can put it to extremely good use.

The sale kicks off at 2 p.m. Saturday and continues through December 23. It’s a pretty wild scene, with all sorts of stuff at all sorts of levels of accomplishment, and it’s more than a bit of a crap shoot: you might walk in and find ten pieces you absolutely must have for the people on your list, or you might strike out. Either way, the sheer volume of objects is pretty amazing. And what you spend here stays here. You’re welcome.

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Venus and Adonis: a minimalist masterpiece

Can you appreciate acting for its own sake? Attending this play is a good way to check.

I’ve been here before.

Yes, this time last year—almost to the day—I visited Shaking The Tree Theatre to watch Matthew Kerrigan perform (wonderfully) in another minimally staged show, Dario Fo’s The Dissenter’s Handbook. Among the few audience members, I recall a middle-aged couple each (despite obviously knowing better) texting incessantly during the show, then leaving at intermission. Which left me wondering: Why had they even come?

Rebecca Ridenour as Venus and Matthew Kerrigan as Adonis. Photo: Gary Norman.

Kerrigan had just been featured in Artslandia’s “The Lead,” effectively celebritizing him as one of the city’s best actors, and I had a sneaking suspicion that this cashmere-casual couple’s presence at the play had something to do with that. Like foodies who’d order the city’s best duck confit then proclaim it too greasy, these people had tracked down one of Portland’s best actors only to realize that the craft of acting, in and of itself, didn’t “do it” for them. To enjoy theater, they may have needed more appetizers. A kitchen-sink-realistic set, perhaps? A swing-dancing ensemble cast? Who knows? In any case, they needed to see something made out of something, not something magicked out of nothing, as Kerrigan was—and is again—prepared to do.

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Timothy Fodge and Caitlyn Lushington play Orlando and his disguised love interest Rosalind.

Timothy Fodge and Caitlyn Lushington play Orlando and his disguised love interest Rosalind.

When I first determined to check out the “immersive” As You Like It at The Steep and Thorny Way To Heaven, I’m pretty sure I based my expectations entirely on works I’d seen there before. In this private event space, I once attended a fairy-themed vaudevillian variety show with venue co-host Megan Skye Hale emceeing for a kettle-drummer, two masked mimes, two belly dancers and an aerial acrobat. More recently, I also caught a rock revue performed by venue co-host Myrrh Larsen and inspired by Hades and Persephone, where the mythic characters pursued each other through a torrid contemporary dance that started onstage and then rampaged through the audience.

So when I heard the space would host a Shakespeare play, I wondered what we might see: A juggling Touchstone, chanting punchlines between catches? A quick-changing Rosalind, flashing rapidly between a ballgown and a tux? An aerialist Phoebe, dangling just above the shepherd Silvius’s furtive grasp?

As it turns out, Speculative Drama & Susurrations actually plays this production pretty straight and narrow—not too steep or thorny—with what would qualify as a unique and engaging treatment, but not a wild and wacky reimagining. What the play does deliver are some new faces, some fun variations, and an excellent option for date-night Shakespeare comedy. Get the Montage to sculpt you a swan, then walk a couple of blocks to this show.*

The wardrobe is Doc Marten Neo-Victorian. The set is minimal, just a black background, but with a cool catwalk installed along stage right. The blocking is dynamic and often comic, the diction is precise, and the couples’ “meet-cutes” are appropriately funny and fawning.

Orlando is Tim Fodge, a Newberger making a worthy Portland debut. A Kenneth Branagh/Kevin Klein type who looks best in a beard and comports himself with eloquence, pomp and mischief, Fodge probably has a past and is safely assured a future in Shakespeare, but could yet develop more range. Even when he’s exiled from a kingdom and attacked by a lion, we never believe he’s in any danger. Enso Theatre Ensemble’s Caitlin Lunshington as Rosalind is over-the-top adorable, dimpled and enthusiastic and, when necessary, coy and sly. Her best moves include an impressive cartwheel out of Orlando’s arms, and a 1950s “boy adventurer”-style Ganymede, with hands on hips and a twinkle in the eye, a la Davy Crockett or Peter Pan. Megan Skye Hale, also the show’s A.D., plays Rosalind’s cohort Celia with matching gusto.

Readers Theatre Rep’s Wendy Wilcox plays a stately female version of the banished Duke Senior (timely, with Hillary’s rise), while Jacques (whom recent productions including this one puzzlingly insist on calling “Jay-Queeze,” like some B-list rapper) is portrayed here not as a straight sad sack, but rather a preening and arch gay man flourishing a fan, more in love with the poetry of his own laments than actually aggrieved by them. A few characters, Audrey, Charles, and William, are omitted, with Charles still referenced but never seen onstage and the other two struck completely from the script. Audrey’s omission leaves Touchstone without a lover, giving Jacques’ eager recounting of meeting him a more twitterpated tone. Jacques also seems to take more than an artistic interest in his accompanying troubadour, Amiens—a take that seems new, but also plausibly may hark all the way back to the original Elizabethan all-male-player tradition. “Play me songs all day to soothe my spirit?” Please. That is flirting. Jeff Desautels, who plays both Amiens and Oliver, sports a similar scarf and demeanor in both roles, but cultivates more chemistry with Jacques than with Celia, which piques the imagination. YOCTOtheatre’s Sean Bowie as Touchstone is given less than usual to do, but dispatches it admirably; Caitlynn Didlick, a recurring performer at Steep and Thorny, plays a relatively mild-mannered and understated Phoebe; and PSU theater student London Bauman makes a sympathetic Sylvius.

Though nobody’s spinning from the ceiling, this is a worthwhile spin on Shakespeare comedy As You Like It—and as it happens, I do.

*Because of the space’s status as a private venue, reservations are required.

The patriot act: ‘Coriolanus’

Using Thomas Sheridan's 1749 adaptation, Bag&Baggage creates an up-to-the-minute political tragedy that is "struck with sorrow," outdoors

As Coriolanus and her soldiers stormed up the steps of the Hillsboro Civic Center with swords at their sides, a group of pedestrians across the street yelled somewhat in jest: “Killers! They have swords!” From the pavement to the confusing current global political theater, Coriolanus, Shakespeare’s most chameleonic of plays, still finds a home. Bag&Baggage uses Thomas Sheridan’s 1749 revision of Coriolanus (Sheridan retitled it Coriolanus, or the Roman Matron) and an all-female cast to suck out the marrow of the drama in our high-stakes and stressful election year.

The stage for this production, which Bag&Baggage is calling the first recorded production of Sheridan’s version in American history, is outdoors, with an almost rooftop vantage on the backside of the civic center, facing the MAX tracks. A 21st century brushed-steel pediment is supported by sleek columns, a forum where pristine glass meets seamlessly with new concrete. Behind the windows are faint corporate printed posters of important civilians; here and there a plastic office machine or grey Formica desk pushes against the many panes doubling the repeated squares. Panels of red and black with sniper-looking holes make up the curtain. Gene Roddenberry would approve the design. The “stage” pans out with more cement and potted-flower arrangements that lead to a vast set of stairs. The action in Coriolanus takes place throughout this space, moving all around the audience. The cast is a moving chessboard, with geometric choreographed marches and moves. It’s as if we in the audience are the Roman “people” who sit and judge where the corruption lies, and with which official.

Lindsay Partain as Virgilia, Arianne Jacques as Valeria, and Maryanne Glazebrook as Volumnia. Casey Campbell Photography

Lindsay Partain as Virgilia, Arianne Jacques as Valeria, and Maryanne Glazebrook as Volumnia. Casey Campbell Photography

Cassie Greer, athletic and tan, carries this Coriolanus with the posture of a masculine corporate predator. Her black hair, tightly pulled back, creates a signature that says whatever lies on the inside is exactly where it will remain. Her Coriolanus has no human weakness on the surface. In the most important scenes of the play, her finished rhetoric reverberates like a cannon blast off the concrete set and echoes over the rooftops. There’s some Napoleon thrown into her approach to the character: an upstart nobility that is on the verge of being drowned by arrogance, but for a while is smart enough to keep it under wraps. She moves like the petit emperor, every minute a pose to justify her authority. The two whips of eyeliner she wears frame her eyes, not in a feminine way, but more like minimal warpaint and an ornament for seduction.

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Hunter captured by the game

In Shakespeare's "Venus and Adonis" at CoHo, Shaking the Tree takes a green look at the thrill of the hunt

It’s the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death, and in his time, poetry was considered a noble trade. Shakespeare made his mark there first, and most of us know by memory a few of those famous lines: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” In Shakespeare’s century, theater was in large part for the raucous and bawdy, pint-lifting hoi polloi: the commoners. It’s been rumored of late in the papers that the Bard, himself, tried to secure a noble crest for his family, perhaps to hush the naysayers who believed he was little but an upstart with an impressive vocabulary. But, the chalk-complexioned ginger Queen Elizabeth put most of those rumors to rest, and here we are today celebrating his insights on the human condition. It can be argued that despite the success of his politically themed theater, his strongest suit was a deep understanding of the heart.

While we may have plowed his sonnets in our younger years for our own romantic endeavors, it is usually the case that today Shakespeare’s poetry probably isn’t in our stack of books. Shaking the Tree, as part of CoHo’s SummerFest series of short-run shows (this one opened Thursday and closes Sunday)  regrows an appreciation of his other, and perhaps, more personal work by way of a staged version of his brilliant poem Venus and Adonis.

Ridenour and Kerrigan, playing games. Photo: Gary Norman

Ridenour and Kerrigan, playing games. Photo: Gary Norman

Rebecca Ridenour’s goddess, Venus, shimmers in a golden gown, barefoot and with braided hair. She comes in with a case of vanity and the feral, celestial aura of a hunter. What she’s hunting, she’s not sure of, but in most cases it would take a male form. Ridenour is a suppressed volcanic wait of hormones. Here begins the triangle of insight by Ridenour, director Samantha Van Der Merwe, and Matthew Kerrigan as Adonis. All three play with Shakespeare’s mock view of how a petulant female chases a closed-hearted male, but both Venus and Adonis surface in the end as losers in a complicated game.

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Post5’s ‘Othello’: less is more

A stark and delicate dance of power gets stripped down to its basics in Post5's "Shakesqueer" telling of the tale

Any relationship involves a delicate dance of power. We negotiate and bargain the trivial to keep the little sparks alive. In love, we try to set aside little irritations for the sake of the oneness. If we’re in for the long haul, most of the everyday is both beautiful and eclipsed by our understanding of whom we care for.

And in this dance, Post5 has stripped bare Shakespeare’s Othello and rearranged the steps.

In director Caitlin Fisher-Draeger’s production the Other is not the Moor, as in the traditional interpretation of Othello. Rather, the have-nots are the Other: the inexplicable Iago, whose passions begin and end in fury; Cassio, who fights for love and liege; and in the end, the motives that lie behind Othello and Desdemona’s desire for each other is the real alienation.

Tell and Tidd: passion and betrayal. Photo: Carrie Anne Huneycutt

Tell and Tidd: passion and betrayal. Photo: Carrie Anne Huneycutt

Post5 has done some Shakesqueering: most of the roles are played by women, the one exception being Rodrigo, acted by Sean Doran, who shifts the weight of his walking leg while the other clumps in a cast. He has no affection for Desdemona, and the implied ulterior motives to help Iago: he is half a man, his impotence in stark contrast to the band of Amazons who make the stage.

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Bleak and bristling: Post5’s ‘Lear’

Led by Tobias Andersen's perfectly balanced imbalanced king, a strong cast gets the new-look company's newest season off to a flying start

Over the last 55 years, King Lear has been staged more times than in the first 355 years after it was written. Much of the interest in Lear was revived by Peter Brooks’s 1971 film adaptation, which took a haunting look into politics, conflict, rivalry, and homelessness, and revealed an almost unbearable wasteland of emotion in the face of growing old. Before this landmark black-and-white film, Lear was, for the most part, too bleak for audiences in its original form. The ending was altered after Shakespeare’s death with a centuries-early Hollywood happy ending. No more of that.

Like the play itself, Post5 has been changing, but it still begins its new season with the Bard – and with a Lear to remember.

Tobias Andersen as Lear: a rage upon the heath. Post5 Theatre photo

Tobias Andersen as Lear: a rage upon the heath. Photo: Carrie Anne Huneycutt

Tobias Andersen delivers his King Lear with a perfect balance of anger, regret, confusion, delirium, and torment. It takes stamina to bring this alive on stage. Andersen works into the monumental role with an even pacing that swings to a crescendo at the most important and famous of scenes, along with a few that are the focus of Post5’s production. He begins as an upright, square-shouldered regent. In the opening scene, when he asks his daughters who loves him the most, Andersen is severe with his demands. He has no grasp on the dominoes that begin to fall rapidly out of place. Andersen plays Lear as the real-life Celtic pagan king would have looked at the world, a victim of the fickle gods and circumstance. His descent into madness is less anxiety-provoking about how it will happen, and more the experience of watching a superb veteran actor unweave the tapestry of Lear’s mind.

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