Shakespeare

Nataki Garrett on OSF’s jubilant future

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival artistic director talks about her first full season at the helm, expanding a legacy of inclusion.

“I’ve never been to a theater where people move to a city to be closer to the theater!”

The strange magic of Ashland, Oregon is starting to work itself on Nataki Garrett. Of course, as the artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival since last August — only the sixth in the festival’s long history — Garrett herself moved to Ashland to be closer to the theater. But she’s talking about the passion and dedication of the festival’s nationwide audience, and about inheriting the leadership of a company that can inspire fans to not just buy tickets but rent U-Hauls.

I’ll just say that I’m excited that this is my first official season at OSF,” Garrett says, talking recently by phone. “I’m really taking the opportunity to learn about this community, this amazing company, this audience. I’m really happy to be here.”

New Oregon Shakespeare Festival artistic director Nataki Garrett: Photo: Kim Budd.

Garrett’s hiring, last March, was the result of a nearly year-long search to replace Bill Rauch, who was OSF artistic director from 2007 until leaving last year to help start the new Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center at New York’s World Trade Center. Before coming to Ashland, Garrett, who’s a graduate and former staff member of California Institute of the Arts (CalArts),  spent 18 months as acting artistic director at Denver Center for the Performing Arts, where former Portland Center Stage leader Chris Coleman eventually took the reins. 

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A Tempest in the Schnitz

With a vivid storm of Shakespeare's words and Sibelius's music, The Oregon Symphony pairs two artists in their twilights for a last hurrah


PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL
STORY BY BOB HICKS


It was a storm for the ages Saturday night in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall as the musicians of the Oregon Symphony swept into the swirling seas of The Tempest, the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’s vivid 1925/26 score for William Shakespeare’s great late romance about an island, a magician, a belly full of betrayals, an awakening of young love, and a resolution of forgiveness. Ah, but first, the storm: blowing, whistling, reeling, slipping and sliding in a chaotic cascade of rhythms and notes – an unsettling of sound that whirls and clatters and destroys and yet also somehow sets the scene for fresh wonders and reawakened hope.

As the orchestra urges the action forward, Caliban (Tobias Greenhalgh), seeing freedom if he switches allegiance from Prospero, cavorts with his new hopes, the drunken butler Stephano (Benjamin Taylor, middle) and jester Trinculo (Andrew Stenson). It’s not Caliban’s wisest decision.

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Dance preview: BodyVox’s Death and Delight scramble

After a leading dancer took a blow to the noggin, BodyVox called on its dancers' super powers to learn new roles

Last weekend, BodyVox dancer Andrés Peraza, took a blow to the head towards the end of a performance of BodyVox’s spooktacular Halloween show, BloodyVox, in Hood River. Peraza suffered a concussion. The why and the how it all happened is not entirely clear, but it’s always a risk taking shows on the road: as Elizabeth Miller, BodyVox’s Audience Engagement director told me,  you never know what the stages will look like on the road and how much space you will have to dance in.

“We had to restructure a lot of the pieces…and unfortunately someone’s knee or foot extended beyond the new spacing,” she said.

Sadly, this means that Andrés will not be able to perform in Death and Delight, BodyVox’s double Shakespeare bill of Romeo and Juliet (set to Sergei Prokofiev’s dramatic Romeo and Juliet Suite) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, (danced to Felix Mendelssohn’s theatrically descriptive score). The show opens Thursday and runs for three weeks, November 7-23, at BodyVox. But don’t worry, according to BodyVox artistic director Jamey Hampton, the entire cast has rallied together and the show is looking wonderful. 

Peraza, who is a native Oregonian and a graduate of the Arts and Communication Magnet Academy (ACMA) in Beaverton, was set to dance the part of Benvolio, Romeo’s cousin in Romeo and Juliet, and Bottom, the donkey-headed comic relief in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He’ll  rejoin the production for its last two weeks. 

The role of Benvolio, typically a male part, will now be danced by junior company member Jenelle Gaerlan. Bottom will be danced by guest dancer Jake Gordon, and company dancer Brent Lubbert, originally cast as Bottom, will be jumping into the role of Helena, one of the lovers and female protagonists in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s dancer superhero time as all three of these dancers have to learn new choreography for two, 45-minute acts in just three days. Actually the whole cast has to readjust. New company members Theresa Hanson and guest artist DarVejon Jones will also be joining the production.

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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.

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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.