BWW Reviews: SEATTLE OUTDOOR THEATER FESTIVAL 2010

Greenstage presented Seattle's Outdoor Theater Festival in Capitol Hill's Volunteer Park over the weekend of July 10th and 11th to kick off the many Summer park shows around the Puget Sound area.  The festival encompassed 11 shows from eight different companies and while they mostly followed a Shakespearean bent there were also a few decidedly non-Shakespearean shows but all good fun for all ages and it's all FREE.  Let's go through them, shall we?

PERFORMERS' FORGE

BWW Reviews: SEATTLE OUTDOOR THEATER FESTIVAL 2010While not technically a "show", many of the performances were introduced with a small demonstration of stage combat from the folks at Performers' Forge, a group dedicated to the education and performance of stage combat.  Whether with swords, axes or bare fists, these are the pros who come into any show that contains fighting and makes sure it's done safely, cleanly and above all looks great.  And like I said, while not technically a show, they managed to entertain the crowd with their demonstrations and really warmed us all up for the forthcoming shows.

You can find out more information about Performer's Forge by looking them up on Facebook.

Photo Credit: Jay Irwin

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM from Last Leaf Productions

BWW Reviews: SEATTLE OUTDOOR THEATER FESTIVAL 2010My first foray into the land of the Bard this weekend began with Last Leaf Production's presentation of "A Midsummer Night's Dream", Shakespeare's tale of misdirected love, a man who becomes a donkey and how the Gods like to mess with us poor mortals.  The show follows Titania and Oberon King and Queen of the fairies who are not having the best of marriages right now.  So to entertain themselves they meddle in the lives of two couples, Lysander and Hermia and Demetrius and Helena with the help of minions including the mischievous Puck.  But when potions are given to the wrong lovers and Oberon plays a joke on his wife by making her fall in love with an ass (who used to be an actor.  Is that redundant?) all hell breaks loose in one of Shakespeare's most beloved comedies.  The production here is enjoyable if not a bit inconsistent and slightly miscast.  But there were a few shining elements of the show.  Gail Wamba is lovely as the diva-ish Queen Titania.  And Annelih G. Holganza brings tons of life to the show as the clever Puck.  Although I'm not sure why she and the only other fairy in the show chose to interpret all of their lines into sign language as they performed.  And only them.  It seems to me, if it was for the deaf, they might have wanted to interpret all the lines and not just theirs.  But all in all an enjoyable attempt and the actors definitely looked as if they were enjoying themselves.

Last Leaf will have future performances of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" over the summer in various parks around the Puget Sound area through July 31st.  For more information on their schedule, check out their website at www.lastleaf99.org.

Photo Credit: Jay Irwin

OTHELLO from Wooden O

BWW Reviews: SEATTLE OUTDOOR THEATER FESTIVAL 2010Next we have "Othello" presented by Wooden O in conjunction with the Seattle Shakespeare Company.  Here the eponymous Othello is a most revered General but also a Moor.  So when she falls for and weds the Senator's daughter Desdemona, the news does not go over well.  Add to it that Othello has overlooked the jealous Iago in favor of the youthful Cassio to be his lieutenant and look out!  The jealous Iago has devised a plan to make Othello think that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair which causes Othello to go into a murderous rage.  Othello is one of Shakespeare's most often produced plays as many feel it's themes of racism, love, jealousy and betrayal are still quite relevant today.  And while this is not the best production I've seen, the actors and director really know what the story is about and manage to convey it with zeal.  Genesis Oliver has the power and rage for the Moor and seriously made me afraid for Desdemona's life while still sympathizing with his pain.  George Mount as the conniving Iago was subtly yet deliciously evil.  And kudos to Heather Hawkins for her portrayal of Iago's unwitting accomplice Emilia.  A sublime performance of an underappreciated character.  So overall a wonderful production if not a bit over-produced for a park show (do we need a soundtrack?).

Othello will continue to play in various parks in the Puget Sound area through August 1st.  For a schedule or more information check out their website at www.seattleshakespeare.org.

Photo Credit:  John Ulman

AN INCONVENIENT SQUIRREL from Theater Schmeater

BWW Reviews: SEATTLE OUTDOOR THEATER FESTIVAL 2010Now we come to the first truly kid related show I saw at the fest, "An Inconvenient Squirrel" by Joseph Scrimshaw from Theater Schmeater.  Here we follow the adventures in the village of squirrels and in particular one squirrel as he bucks tradition and forges out on his own to discover who he is.  On the journey he is joined by his new friend Socially Awkward Squirrel and they embark on an adventure that takes them into the heart of the forest where they eventually encounter the most dreaded squirrel there is, Evil Genius Squirrel.  Yes, it's a goofy kids show but there's plenty in this wonderful script for both young and old.  It's a hilarious romp that leaves you grinning from ear to ear.  And watch out for show stealers Josh Hartvigson as Socially Awkward Squirrel, Daniel Wood as Evil Genius Squirrel and especially Nathan Pringle as the Big Ol' Tree.  Pringle takes a very small character and turns every moment he has into gold.  And his final moment is priceless.  This is definitely one to take the kids to for an afternoon outing that they and you will love.  And if you have no kids, find your inner child and bring them.

"An Inconvenient Squirrel" plays only at Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill each Saturday and Sunday at 5:00PM through August 8th.  For more information contact them at 206-324-5801 or visit them online at www.schmeater.org.

Photo Credit: Jay Irwin

ROMEO AND JULIET from Greenstage

BWW Reviews: SEATTLE OUTDOOR THEATER FESTIVAL 2010My final show from Saturday was Greenstage's production of the classic Shakespearean tale of star crossed lovers, "Romeo and Juliet".  For those that don't know the story (and how is that possible?) Romeo is from one family, Juliet another and the two families hate each other.  So when the two kids meet and fall in love what are they to do?  Sneak around behind their parent's backs of course.  But when they are discovered and Juliet's father insists she marries someone else, she devises a plan to fake her death and flee with Romeo.  What could go wrong? 

The production here is a solid one if not a bit overdone.  They have imbued the show with a heightened sense of reality that makes it look less like a tragic tale of romance and more like a sit-com or soap opera.  And while that may make it more accessible for people not familiar with Shakespeare, I prefer to stick with the story as it is.  This heightened reality does work well in bringing out the comedy of the piece but then it tends to undercut the drama.  There were some that managed to find a wonderful balance of the two in the show.  Eli Sklov Simons was lovely as Friar Lawrence who tries to assist the lovers in their scheme.  And Ryan Higgins had us all laughing one minute and sobbing the next with his playful Romeo.  He made us really care for this playboy which makes the ending all the more heartbreaking. 

Greenstage's production of "Romeo and Juliet" continues to play around the Puget Sound area through August 14th.  For more information visit them online at www.greenstage.org.

Photo Credit: Ken Holmes

RICHARD II from The Young Shakespeare Workshop

BWW Reviews: SEATTLE OUTDOOR THEATER FESTIVAL 2010My 2nd day of the fest began on a trepidatious yet ultimately delighted note with The Young Shakespeare Workshop's production of "Richard II".  It's the tale of King Richard and his rise to and fall from the throne.  There's betrayal, murder, treason and a lot of gages being thrown down. 

The show was presented quite simply in a grove of trees with only a platform, a throne and a few other sundry props.  And while no, it was not the best all over production I saw at the fest, I must qualify that these are actors just starting out.  And if some of them continue to get better then the rest of us actors better watch out.  Particularly Joshua Davids as King Richard whose swaggering command at the beginning was matched only by his seething descent at the end.  And then there was Kate McKnight as the Duke of York for whom I can only say, "Wow!"  A quiet and focused performance that kept making me forget I was watching a young woman as she completely inhabited the characteristics of a regal older man.  And "Wow" not only for her transformation into the character but a performance of the character that was as complex and layered as I've seen.  Definitely someone to watch.

The Young Shakespeare Workshop has been working with teenagers in their tuition free program for 19 years now and their production this year shows that there are still places where the works of Shakespeare can be taught and taught well. They will be performing a few more times around the area.  For more information on their productions or the program visit them online at www.youngshakespeare.org.

Photo Credit: Jay Irwin

GREETINGS FROM STYX from Balagan Theatre

BWW Reviews: SEATTLE OUTDOOR THEATER FESTIVAL 2010Balagan Theatre never ceases to amaze me.  They take the barest of bones set and prop pieces and turn them into the richest of landscapes.  Not only that but they are on the cutting edge of what is and can be cool and fresh about theater.  And "Greetings from Styx" is no exception.  Based on 4 tales from Ovid's Metamorphoses, and updated slightly by local playwrights Jose Amador, Maggie Lee, Matt Smith and Erin Stewart they present these tales with humor, style and live music and dance as if they were presenting them on a boardwalk along the River Styx in the early 1900's. 

Featuring the amazing talents of Libby Barnard, Julia Beers, Ahren Buhmann, Gabe Congdon, Nik Doner, Shauna Freidenberger, Kenna Kettrick, Damian Peterson, and Hannah Schnabel they deftly present the tales of Minos and the Minotaur, the aging lovers Baucis and Philemon, Echo and Narcissus, and Raven and Crow.  And while some may question the kid friendliness of these tales, the actors play them with such gleeful giddiness that even the little ones will be entertained and won't go home with nightmares.  And they never once talk down to the kids which is a trap some children's shows fall into. 

Balagan proves how good outdoor theater can be!

"Greetings From Styx" continues to play around the Puget Sound area through August 1st.  For more information visit them online at www.balagantheatre.org.

Photo Credit: Andrea Huysing

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING from Wooden O

BWW Reviews: SEATTLE OUTDOOR THEATER FESTIVAL 2010So I saved the best for last (and coincidentally the last show I saw during the fest).  Wooden O completely scored with their 2nd offering of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing".  Updated and given a bit of a down home Cajun feel, the story follows the Prince's men as they return from fighting.  Among them are the young and love struck Claudio and the quick witted and perennial bachelor Benedict.  Upon arriving at Leonato's home they are greeted by the equally smitten with Claudio, Hero, and the sharp tongued and in no need of men, Beatrice.  So of course Beatrice and Benedict will get together, with the help of their friends, although they claim they hate each other in some of the best banter ever written.  But not all is well, the Prince's evil and jealous brother Don John has devised a plan to separate the lovers with his lies and misdirection leading the lovers to a tragic outcome.  But don't worry; this is one of Shakespeare's most popular comedies.

The cast here is nothing less than the dream team of Seattle theater.  There's so much goodness on stage I can't possibly mention it all.  But I must point out a few.  Keith Dahlgren shines as the doting and eventually heartsick father Leonato.  Brenda Joyner and Michael Place are wonderful as the lovers Hero and Claudio.  Evan Whitfield's Don Pedro (the Prince) is nothing less than outstanding.  I've seen too many people swagger their way through this role but he managed to infuse it with humor and a deep friendship for his comrades.  Tim Gouran is quietly and delicately evil as the manipulative Don John.  And Chris Ensweiller is hilarious as the dim witted Dogberry.

But what made this show really sparkle were the glorious performances from Beatrice and Benedict (as tends to happen with this show) Amy Thone and Hans Altweis.  Right from the moment these two break into their jabs toward each other, you know you are in for one of the best times you've ever had.  And I guess it doesn't hurt that they are a married couple in real life.  But then, often, couples off stage can't manage the chemistry on stage.  Not the case here.  You can see from the first volley of insults the two of them staring at each other with little glints in their eyes as if to indicate they are about to enter "play time".  They have so much fun with the text that the audience cannot possibly have a bad time.  It's a small wonder that they are two of my favorite actors in town.

Add into that superb and heartfelt direction from Sheila Daniels and some rollicking music from Scott Adams, Sage Price and David S Hogan and you're in for a stunningly good time.  Which is why I give the title of My Best of the Fest to "Much Ado About Nothing".  If you can only see one, this is it.

"Much Ado About Nothing" continues to play various parks in the Puget Sound area through August 1st.  For a schedule or more information check out their website at www.seattleshakespeare.org.

Photo Credit:  John Ulman

Now with two stages at the festival, it was impossible to catch everything.  So there were a few shows I missed that are also still playing around town through the summer.  You can find out more about them at their respective sites.

PIRATES AT PRINCESS ISLAND from Open Circle Theater - www.octheater.com
A WINTER'S TALE from Last Leaf Productions - www.lastleaf99.org
THE LOST FOLIO from Wing-it Productions - www.wingitpresents.com
AS YOU LIKE IT from Greenstage - www.greenstage.org

So whatever you're in the mood for, there's something that's bound to suit you this summer.  So if you can stand the heat (or maybe rain), the bugs, and the planes roaring overhead, then you (and the family) could be in for a great time this summer.  And did I mention those park shows are free?

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Jay Irwin Born and raised in Seattle, WA, Jay has been a theater geek for years. He attends as many shows as he can around the country and loves taking in new exciting works.

Instituting a new three letter rating system for my reviews for 2014. They'll range from best to worst as WOW (A can’t miss), YAY (Too damn good), MEH+ (Good, with some great things going for it), MEH (Just OK), NAH (You can miss this one) and WTF (I think you can figure out my complex code there).

Jay is also an actor in the local Seattle scene. Follow me on Twitter @SeattleBdwyGeek


 
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