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Shakespeare in the Park accessible and light
Shakespeare in the Park accessible and light
by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Shakespeare in the Park, Twelfth Night and Hamlet
August 16
Magnuson Park


This is Greenstage's 20th anniversary of doing Shakespeare in the Park. Seattle has a wonderful set of companies dedicated to free theater during the summer. This year, Greenstage has Hamlet and Twelfth Night. The last performances are tomorrow, August 16. Twelfth Night is at 3 p.m. in Seward Park and Hamlet is at 7 p.m. You can take a picnic dinner and stay for both shows.

Twelfth Night, directed by Amelia Meckler, actually has no set at all. The actors carry on a bench or two every once in a while, but you never miss it. It proves that all you need to create theater is a performer and a willing audience. The audience at Magnuson Park was more than willing to suspend their disbelief for this (deliberately) silly performance. Orsino (Ryan Higgins) is over-the-top foppish, which was startling and a fun, new way to see the character.

Keeping the silliness going were the fluffy antics of Mathew Ahrens as Sir Toby Belch and his sidekick, Tomas Maier as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. They took full advantage of the large expanse of lawn to crawl, stumble, roll and cavort across it. They provoked belly laughs from the crowd.

Having many more Shakespearean-trained actresses than actors in this town, the part of Fabian was played by Ashley Flannegan. Ashley got to show off her very lovely singing voice as she sang original music composed by Andy Clawson for the production. Having Fabian be a woman was intriguing for the antics of Belch and Aguecheek, and created a more flirtatious and accessible trio.

The more difficult role of Malvolio was played stern and proper by Orion Prontonentis. A hulk of a presence, whose attempt at smiling was like watching someone bulk up his muscles for a bodybuilding competition, he was another hugely fun aspect of this production.

Andy Clawson had to go on as an understudy for the role of Feste, the fool, and, having composed the music, he played the role as if he had been performing all summer long. His musical compositions made an apt accompaniment to the rest of the production.

Other leads were Nicole Vernon, as Viola, who had good comic timing in her scenes with Olivia (Nicole Fierstein) and Sir Andrew, and Banton Foster, who has a nice comic turn as Sebastian.

Costumes by Janessa Jayne Styck, especially for the women and Viola, were entrancing. Olivia's costume changes lent color to the performance space.

Hamlet - as directed by Susanna Wilson - allows the title character to be more mad than melancholy, as Shawn Law pokes fun at his family in a wry, ironic fashion. Beth Cooper, playing Horatio, made for a warm presence, though it is not a part that works well as a female in the context of Hamlet. Nice moments of humor peek through from Polonius (Allan Armstrong) and even Gertrude (Macall Gordon), where many interpretations are more stodgy. Heather Gautschi and Stephen Grenley have an amusing interaction with Hamlet as gravediggers. Generally, productions usually treat these passages with more reverence, not really to better result. Some of the humor extracted made the whole play more accessible to a garden audience.

Hamlet's famous speech, "Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue," is rendered much more understandable in his interplay with the players. Shawn Law's Hamlet, in coordination with Susanna Wilson's direction, is very accessible. Each of his long speeches is made fresh.

A troubled relationship with Ophelia (Carolyn Marie Monroe) is not, however, made clearer, though it's not the fault of the actress. Ophelia's madness is never really well established.

No set designer is credited, but a spare three arches and curtains helps create enough atmosphere to satisfy. And for a traveling show, it's eminently portable. Costumes by DodiRose Zooropa were nicely done, but in the hot summer sun, might be uncomfortably heavy. One wonders if one can create the same look with less fabric for hot outdoor performances. Everyone certainly looked Shakespearean.

If you're lucky enough to receive a copy of the paper on Friday afternoon, you can also catch Hamlet at 7 p.m. in Volunteer Park and Twelfth Night at 7 p.m. at Seward Park.

For more information, go to www.greenstage.org or call (206) 748-1551.

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