Eugene Weekly : Theater : 8.21.08

Shakespeares in the Parks
Two comedies in the fine out of doors
by Katie Dettman and Suzi Steffen

Twins and puppets and music, oh my!

Puppets, visual aids and a wild

mixture of music anchor the Roving Park Players’ outdoor presentation of The Comedy of Errors. The young theater company makes Shakespeare accessible with a stripped-down manner and nothing to distract from the action.

Hilarious and entertaining, the production includes several unexpected turns, including silent pieces (lazzi) between scenes, which the actors perform wearing handmade masks. One of the lazzi incorporates a member of the audience. 

The most entertaining bit of the play, which presents several instances of mistaken identity, is undoubtedly Bob Glasser’s all-too-brief portrayal of Dr. Pinch, a conjuring schoolmaster who wears a white doctor’s coat, a neon pink and green necktie and a black derby hat. As others speak in the scene, he repeatedly glances up at the sky and silently speaks to a specter unseen to the audience. He ends one of his scenes with a throwback to The Wizard of Oz, murmuring “What a world!” as he melts.

Other highlights include Katelyn Bruhn as Adriana and Kella Hanna-Wayne as her sister, Luciana. Each project and deliver their lines with clarity and the right amount of emotion ­ some of the best acting in the production. The two also charm the audience with a capella duets, singing certain lines together or in a round. The play is intermixed with various forms of music, including recorded tunes blasted from the sound system behind the audience.

Director Vicki Harkovitch encourages much improvisation, and the company appreciates this freedom. Sam Hediger as Antipholus of Syracuse and Seth Hansen as Dromio of Syracuse employ synchronized slapstick to hilarious effect.

One of the more confusing aspects of the production is the portrayal of the officer of Ephesus by Big Rag Doll (so-called in the program); literally a big, rag doll, whose lines are spoken by whichever actor happens to be holding him at the time. Perhaps this is another way to draw in the audience, but it seems more distracting than anything else. Still, this is a production you shouldn’t miss.

Errors continues on Aug. 21 & 22 at Campbell Senior Center’s garden, 155 High Street in Eugene, and on Aug. 23 & 24 at Island Park, 200 West B Street, Springfield. For more information, visit www.rovingparkplayers.orgKatie Dettman

All’s well that ends with a party

A Merry Wife

Rumor has it that Queen Elizabeth I, after viewing Henry IV, Parts I & II and Henry V, wanted more of the larger than life character of Falstaff. “Falstaff in love,” she asked of the good ol’ Bard, who obliged his absolute monarch with the witty, light Merry Wives of Windsor. For the 10th year of Free Shakespeare in the Park, director Sharon S`elove picked the comedy to enliven the evenings of those who flock to Amazon Community Park on August weekends.

As a kid, I attended many plays and musicals in parks, none of which ever included an evening of Shakespeare. The squirmy, whiny kids who talked, ran off to play, bugged their parents for more dinner and generally ignored about 65 percent of the play might explain my experiences — not that I resented the kids all of the time (though I did wonder if they had gotten to see the Story Lady tell the tale to help them understand the play ahead of time). 

I didn’t entirely resent them because, hey, it’s community theater outside! For free! Which is fun. And to tell the truth, I got squirmy when I couldn’t hear the actors (Y’all! You have no microphones! Project!), and we definitely ate dinner before intermission rolled around. But in the midst of this good-hearted community attempt at a complex comedic mix of misunderstandings, some of the actors stand out. Stuart Phillips as Master Ford garners the lion’s share of inter-scenic applause, for he wisely appeals directly to the audience and understands how to make his character’s jealousy seem logical instead of manic. AnnMarie Maurer as Mistress Page provides many a lively moment, as do two of the other women, Danette Lamson as Mistress Quickly and Sarah Cassady as the Host of the Garter.

But what of our Falstaff, young (deep breath) Joshua David Robert Vernon Gambill? Aside from having the most pretentious name on any Eugene cast list, Gambill doesn’t quite have the chops for Falstaff — at least, not yet. The part requires some cynical self-knowledge that takes a few years to acquire. Still, he performs competently, and on the intensely hot night I attended the production, he drew some laughs even from the kids, who often repeated the things he said. 

Take a picnic (but save the alcohol for after the show), take your neighbors, take your senses of patience and humor, and you’ll enjoy Merry Wives. The costumes, especially in the mad heat of August, pretty much blow the mind, and even if you can only hear a portion of the play (sit as close as you can), you’ll have a good time. After all, the play ends with a hunt, lots of fairies, a marriage of love and a big party. All good things for the summer. 

The Merry Wives of Windsor continues Aug. 23 & 24 and 30 & 31 at Amazon Community Park. Story Lady preshow at 5 pm; performances at 6 pm. — Suzi Steffen




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