All the Bard’s plays, three actors, one wild night

Willamette Shakespeare and Portland Actors Ensemble ride the whirlwind of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" in Dayton this weekend

If we’re keeping score, I have six titles to go before I’ve seen all of Shakespeare’s plays on stage at least once — Merry Wives of Windsor, Titus Andronicus, Two Noble Kinsmen, and the three parts of Henry VI. But that claim requires an asterisk: In 2009, I saw The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at Gallery Theater in McMinnville. This enormously popular play, written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield and first performed by them in 1987 in Scotland, hilariously and cleverly crams all 37 of the Bard’s plays into about two hours. And it touches down in Yamhill County on Friday, courtesy of a joint effort by Willamette Shakespeare and Portland Actors Ensemble (PAE).

Sara Fay Goldman (from left), Landy Hite and Joel Patrick Durham play all the roles in “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).” Photo by: Gary Norman

The show opened last weekend on the Concordia University Green in Portland, and this weekend you can find it in the hills between McMinnville and Newberg. The free performance will be held at Stoller Family Estate in Dayton at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Aug. 3 and 4, and 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5. Like so much of summer Shakespeare, it’s a lawn-chair-and-blankets outing, family-friendly, and there’s wine,  because that’s what we do out here. If you can’t make one of these performances, fear not: Four more weekends are scheduled around the Willamette Valley through Labor Day. Details to follow at the end of this week’s column.

Willamette Shakespeare was founded in 2009 by Daniel and Sydney Somerfield. They kicked off with a three-weekend run of As You Like It, rehearsing in a barn on a Newberg-area llama farm. Since then, the company has done mostly lighter fare, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, All’s Well That Ends Well, Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, Love’s Labor’s Lost, and The Taming of the Shrew, while also throwing in Shakespeare’s most audience-friendly tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, and The Winter’s Tale and Pericles.

Those who have faithfully attended the company’s productions over nearly a decade will naturally have something of an advantage in terms of being in on the jokes. But thanks to the ubiquity of Shakespeare in Western culture and the universality of the playwright’s stories and themes, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) works for virtually any audience, and it’s laugh-out-loud funny. I hadn’t seen more than a few of Shakespeare’s histories when I first encountered Complete Works in 2009 and, candidly, have little interest in the British monarchy, but it didn’t matter. The play mashes all 10 histories about Britain’s kings into a football game in which the crown is the football, and it’s funny. Some plays are reduced to a single, definitive act (Julius Caesar’s assassination) or joke (guess what Coriolanus rhymes with) while others make for hilarious riffs — Titus Andronicus, presented by a blood-spattered chef as a cooking show, for example, and Othello as a rap sequence.

Paul Susi

“It’s a great introduction for those audiences who may be reluctant, for whatever reason, to realize that it’s not all pretentiousness,” said Paul Susi, PAE’s new artistic director. “We can laugh at ourselves, and it’s in that disarming that we find emotional truth and resonance with this material that is literally 400 years old now.”

The best, Hamlet, is saved for last. Even more so than everything that precedes it, the play’s familiarity works to everyone’s advantage. As bard scholar Marjorie Garber perceptively notes in her magisterial Shakespeare After All, one’s “experience of Hamlet is almost always that of recognition, of recalling, remembering or identifying some already-known phrase or image … one never does encounter Hamlet ‘for the first time.’”

After the company staggers through its retelling of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy (with audience participation), the cast sets out to perform it faster, and then faster. According to Wikipedia, the play holds the world record for the fastest Hamlet: 43 seconds. And that’s before they do it backwards.

“It takes three very dedicated, very talented actors who are committed to that physicality and that mentality to perform it,” Susi said. Those three actors are Sara Fay Goldman, Landy Hite and Joel Patrick Durham.

There is a bigger story here worth highlighting: This is the fourth summer that Willamette Shakespeare has teamed with PAE, Portland’s oldest Shakespeare-in-the-parks company. The company started in 1970 with As You Like It in Laurelhurst Park and hasn’t missed a year, offering Portland audiences Shakespeare, along with other works.

A few years ago, a career change for co-founder Daniel Somerfield meant that he and Sydney were no longer able to work with Willamette Shakespeare. Both actors, they had been integral to the company’s vitality, so board members approached PAE about working together. By all accounts, it’s worked out, and now the two groups are poised to merge, according to Willamette Shakespeare’s board member and treasurer David Pasqualini.

“We have begun researching the legal issues we must deal with to accomplish this,” Pasqualini said. “In addition, we still want to be able to use the name of Willamette Shakespeare for our vineyard productions. We hope to work out the details and merge our boards before next season.”

“We love the folks down there, and we really appreciate their dedication and support for not just us, but for several touring companies that have come through those vineyards now,” Susi said. “We want to continue to serve and bring diverse work and diverse artists to their venues, and emphasize that we are all one community in the greater Portland and Willamette Valley area.”

Here are places and times to catch the show:

Coming on the heels of Penguin Theater’s Hamlet last week, Complete Works isn’t the last word on Shakespeare in Yamhill County this summer, but it is for the week. Later in the month, however, stay tuned for a The Taming of the Shrew reimagined by and for the #MeToo and #TimesUp generation.

THE CASTLEMAN QUARTET PROGRAM, Linfield College’s free concert series in August, doesn’t start until Aug. 8, but hold on: This Sunday, Aug. 5, Charles Castleman himself — one of the world’s most active violinists and music educators — will give a recital at the Vivian A. Bull Music Center on campus. It starts at 7:30 p.m. in the Delkin Recital Hall. The recital is free, but donations are gratefully accepted and will go to scholarships for future Quartet Program students.

Castleman, 77, has been a soloist with the orchestras of Philadelphia, Boston, Brisbane, Chicago, Hong Kong, Moscow, Mexico City, New York, San Francisco, Seoul and Shanghai. He’s conducted master classes around the world and at more than 50 American universities. On Sunday, he’ll play works by Mozart, Brahms and Ives. I’ll have more on the rest of the concert series next week.

ARTS JOURNAL: The Bard fills four of nearly 40 bookshelves in my office, and last week I picked up a couple more volumes to stuff in there: DK’s Essential Shakespeare Handbook, which I spotted in Ashland earlier this year but held off purchasing until I returned to McMinnville so I could support our local bookstore. Written by Leslie Dunton-Downer and Alan Riding, it’s billed as a “definitive” guide to the playwright and his works, and I find no reason to disagree; if it doesn’t have precisely the same information in Andrew Dickson’s useful The Rough Guide to Shakespeare, the glossy-paged presentation with hundreds of color illustrations and line-count graphics gives it an edge. Also, in anticipation of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2019 production of the Scottish play, I picked up a used copy of the Arden Shakespeare’s Macbeth, primarily for the 124-page introduction. The Arden intros never disappoint, and besides, what’s one more edition? Move over, Folger.

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