The Graduate

Arden Forest comes to Yamhill County

And just to the south, you'll find Elsinore, as a Bard-filled weekend offers outdoor productions of "As You Like It" and "Hamlet"

Before we get to this week’s most exciting theater opening — an open-air production of As You Like It — let’s quickly cast our gaze just south of Yamhill County, where an intriguing Hamlet will be found. 

Western Oregon University keeps Shakespeare alive in the summer with free outdoor productions by its Valley Shakespeare Company. This year, WOU’s David Janoviak is directing Hamlet on the campus’s outdoor Leinwand stage. Valley Shakespeare shows offer a mix of student, faculty, community, and professional guest artists.

Janelle Rae plays Hamlet in Valley Shakespeare Company’s Asian-influenced take on Shakespeare’s tragedy.  Final performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Photo by: Ray Finnell
Janelle Rae plays Hamlet in Valley Shakespeare Company’s Asian-influenced take on Shakespeare’s tragedy. Final performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Photo by: Ray Finnell, courtesy Valley Shakespeare Company

This is Janoviak’s fifth Hamlet. He’s played the Prince of Denmark twice, both in school and professionally, and he’s played Laertes twice, for professional companies in Utah and Texas. For this Hamlet, he’s going with a 2017 WOU graduate in the lead, Janelle Rae, who uses the pronouns they/them.

“Someone once said that you don’t simply decide to do Hamlet and then hold auditions to cast the title role,” he said. “You discover the actor first and then take on the project.  That was the case with Janelle.” The fact that Rae is female, he said, didn’t really cross his mind.

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‘The Graduate’ on the edge

The #MeToo movement raises challenges for Gallery Theater's production of the 1960s tale of seduction and the American dream

The hottest theater ticket in Yamhill County this week is unquestionably at Gallery Players of Oregon in McMinnville, where a three-week run of The Graduate (yes, that Graduate) opens Friday.

Terry Johnson’s adaptation of Charles Webb’s novel (which became an award-winning film starring Dustin Hoffman) will be performed in the Arena, the smaller of Gallery’s two stages with seating for about 80. Inside the company, it’s known as a venue for Gallery’s edgy productions — plays that might offend, or lesser known plays not expected to draw an audience that would fill the main, 236-seat auditorium. Given that The Graduate’s most popular incarnation is more than 40 years old, the play may be relatively obscure. Given the subject matter (an explicitly rendered, sexually charged extramarital affair), it also falls into edgy territory for Yamhill County audiences.

Benjamin Braddock (John Davis Jr.) decides to follow the lead of Mrs. Robinson (Holly Spencer) in Gallery Theater's production of “The Graduate,” which opens Friday, July 26, in McMinnville. Photo by: EKay Media, courtesy Gallery Theater
Benjamin Braddock (John Davis Jr.) decides to follow the lead of Mrs. Robinson (Holly Spencer) in Gallery Theater’s production of “The Graduate,” which opens Friday, July 26, in McMinnville. Photo by: EKay Media, courtesy Gallery Theater

Based on what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard from other actors, Arena shows have drawn larger audiences in recent years. One hopes that The Graduate does as well, for here is an opportunity for audiences to see the artistic alchemy that can happen when a talented and seasoned actor takes a spin in the director’s chair.

Having been involved with Gallery since the late 1990s, I’ve known some people involved in the production for years and in a couple of cases have worked with them on stage. Surprisingly, I’d never spoken with the director until we sat down to chat about this show.

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