Ty Boice

Gigglefest’s mission in McMinnville: Make ’em laugh (again)

After a warm reception last year, producers of the sketch-comedy show promise to take off the gloves this time around

The United States has a long tradition of sketch comedy, with origins in vaudeville and later popularized on radio and eventually on television shows such as Saturday Night Live and The Carol Burnett Show from the 1970s. Ty Boice and Cassandra Schwanke, formerly of Portland’s Post5 Theatre, are keeping the tradition alive in Yamhill County under the banner of Gigglefest, an occasional and limited-run comedy-sketch series that returns Thursday for an April run.

The couple’s Soul of Wit Productions launched Gigglefest last summer with four weekends crammed with more than two dozen performances, with a new “episode” each weekend. Tucked into a makeshift theater in Mac Mead Hall (a “Viking-themed” mead-and-honey-wine bar that hosts game nights and is one of the city’s best-kept secrets) on the second floor of the Union Block building in downtown McMinnville, Gigglefest sold out night after night, winning friendly reviews on Facebook.

Gigglefest 2.ohhh! director Cassandra Schwanke discusses a scene with comic Chad Sharpe before a rehearsal. Photo by: David Bates

Gigglefest 2.ohhh! director Cassandra Schwanke discusses a scene with comic Chad Sharpe before a rehearsal. Photo by: David Bates

It was a strong start, Schwanke told me, but it was also too much.

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Love’s Labour’s Lost: on Post5’s uncertain future

The scrappy theater company hits a crossroads, with no artistic leadership, the loss of its nonprofit status, and no shows in the immediate future

From its beginnings in 2011, Post5 Theatre has had its fingers on a vital part of Portland’s pulse. The often packed houses have swayed between a rowdy fellowship and an emotional entourage, depending on the comedy or tragedy on stage. And it’s done it at bargain ticket prices, allowing it to develop a younger and broader audience than many of the city’s higher-budget companies.

Now all of that is endangered, and the company’s survival is in question: there will be no new productions at least through the first few months of 2017. The leadership triumvirate of artistic directors Paul Angelo, Rusty Tennant and Patrick Walsh resigned early this month after announcing the company had lost its Sellwood district home and revealing that it had also lost its vital 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, which is crucial for fundraising and tax purposes. The company’s board expects Post5 to regain its nonprofit standing. But even with that, it now faces the difficulty and expense of finding a new performing space in a tight real-estate market. And it has no artistic leadership.

Bill Cain's "Equivocation," directed by Paul Angelo and featuring Todd Van Voris (left) and Keith Cable, was a hit for Post5 in September 2015. Russell J Young photo

Bill Cain’s “Equivocation,” directed by Paul Angelo and featuring Todd Van Voris (left) and Keith Cable, was a hit for Post5 in September 2015. Russell J Young photo

Earlier this year in an interview with Willamette Week, Angelo, Tennant and Walsh commented on the changes taking place at Post5 under their leadership after months of silence to the press and ticket buyers. The trio’s artistic direction was a departure from that of founders Ty and Cassandra Boice, who had come to embody what the company was about. Ty was a handsome leading man and deft comic actor with a devoted following. Cassandra was a smart and canny director with deep comic chops. Together they worked long and hard and set the tone for what became known as a scrappy, creatively populist company that was counted on for, among other things, smooth and accessibly populist Shakespeare productions. When they left, Post5’s image and reality seemed bound to change.

The new leadership group told Willamette Week that the next productions’ budgets would be conservative, but they hoped to create more sophisticated and edgier approaches to plays. The artistic directors also mentioned they’d been dealing with a few unexpected struggles, but felt they were now contained. As one of them told WW, “Every theater here is one big mistake from going under.”

After seven productions in the current season, the trio tendered their resignations on Nov. 1. Things were not, to put it mildly, as they had expected. With three months of back rent due, Post5 was about to lose its space. Angelo directed his last play there, Coyote on a Fence. The Post5 board members hustled to find spaces for their final production of the season, company member Philip J. Berns’ unique spin on A Christmas Carol. As of today, Nov. 21, the company’s website lists the play as part of its season, but the ticket link says “there are no current dates or times.”

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Upstart: Lakewood’s ‘Golden Boy’

Ty Boice returns as Clifford Odets' conflicted boxer, putting on the gloves of old-fashioned American realism at Lakewood

By CHRISTA MORLETTI McINTYRE

Lakewood Theatre Company packs punches with its production of Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy, but not the kind you expect. Boxing as the American sport has gone by the wayside since Mike Tyson started biting ears, but once it was the golden sport, responsible for a huge number of radio sales: Families crowded around the old wooden box to see if their hero and their bets were coming through.

That’s the time and atmosphere of Golden Boy, which premiered at The Group Theatre in 1937. Ty Boice stars as Joe Bonaparte, an Italian immigrant’s son who wants to escape the shame and struggle of poverty and make a name and a man of himself. Boice, the founding artistic director of Post5 in Portland and now associate artistic director of Island Stage Left in Friday Harbor, Washington, remains a darling of the Portland stage, and for good reason. He puts on the gloves and doesn’t hit below the belt in Golden Boy. With his natural shock of blond hair he’s a sensitive, but driven, hero, with a keen awareness of Bonaparte’s mixed-up inner world beneath his strong-man facade. Boice gives Bonaparte a slight stutter in Act 1; his hands move jaggedly, and he hangs his head in a slight nod. He’s an innocent boy, subconsciously aware he’s making the choice to bite some apples and lose the comfort of childhood. The inner lion of Boice’s Bonaparte is rehearsing for the moments he comes into his own.

Tabitha Trosen and Ty Boice: cruising for a bruising. Lakewood Theatre photo.

Tabitha Trosen and Ty Boice: cruising for a bruising. Lakewood Theatre photo.

Gary Powell, who played the stand-in for Noel Coward in Lakewood’s recent Present Laughter, delivers a masculine tour de force as Joe’s father, this time without the trappings of crystal decanters and silk robes: he is the interior strength and moral center of Joe’s world. A pushcart fruit salesman, he has set out to make a better life in the New World for his family – not one of a bigger and better house and car, but of the heart and mind. He and Boice together create a powerful dynamic onstage.

*

Odets, the playwright, grew up in the Bronx as the son of Jewish immigrants, and Golden Boy is something of a many-layered, fictionalized memoir. His father was a go-getter who aimed to make it big in the U.S. of A. Odets was a roommate and close friend of director Elia Kazan, and a vital member of the radical theater scene of the 1930s. He came of artistic age in a perfect swirl: the great Yiddish theater and journalism of New York City; the politicking of FDR that created the WPA and its art and performance projects; The Group Theater, led by Lee Strasberg, which forged new avenues in acting by careful and thorough self-reflection, popularly known as “method acting.”

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Moby-Dick, Golden Boy, in the galleries

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Neither snow nor ice shall keep ArtsWatch from its appointed rounds, which on this frigid and slushy morning include a virtual tour of what’s coming up in the Portland arts world in this, the first full week of 2016. We’ll also take a gander back at that creakity old-timer 2015, but fresh things first.

Sometimes what’s new is old, or built on what’s old, and that’s the case with [or, the whale], Juli Crockett’s new play for Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble, opening Friday at Reed College. PETE’s been spending the season reexamining the events and implications of the great Moby-Dick (Barry Johnson reviewed Drowned Horse Tavern, the project’s opening chapter, here), and this newest chapter, the PETEsters say, “will dive into the mind of the old sea-salt sea captain of the one leg.” Right now, we’re imagining a voyage through icy seas.

"[or, the whale]": drama on the high seas. Photo: PETE

“[or, the whale]”: drama on the high seas. Photo: PETE

Also this weekend, Ty Boice slaps on the gloves at Lakewood Theatre and takes a punch at Golden Boy, Clifford Odets’ earnest cautionary drama about American ambition. Boice, who recently left Post5, the company he helped found, to seek further adventures in the northlands of Washington state, seems excellent casting for Joe Bonaparte, the sensitive violinist who stumbles into the fight racket in search of fortune and fame. Three guesses how that turns out – and Odets didn’t even know about the massive long-term dangers of repeated concussions.

 


 

Final call. A couple of big museum shows close up shop this weekend: Seeing Nature, the exhibition of paintings from the Paul Allen collection, on Sunday at the Portland Art Museum; and Alien She, built around the artistic provocations of the Riot Grrrls, on Saturday at the Museum of Contemporary Craft.

Jim Lommasson, from "What We Carried: Fragments from the Cradle of Civilization," at Blue Sky. image © Jim Lommasson

Jim Lommasson, from “What We Carried: Fragments from the Cradle of Civilization,” at Blue Sky. Image © Jim Lommasson

First call. This week also brings the first First Thursday of the year in the galleries, and because New Year’s Day arrived last Friday, the Second Friday gallery hop arrives the following day, bringing lots and lots of new exhibits to town. A few shows to keep in mind:

  • Photographer Jim Lommasson is an investigator of trauma and survival, looking for shards of hope amid upheaval. At Blue Sky Gallery, his new series What We Carried: Fragments from the Cradle of Civilization documents the stories of refugees fleeing the Iraqi war, and the things they brought with them. Also on view will be works from his earlier series Exit Wounds, about the aftermath for American soldiers of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meantime, at the Nine Gallery inside Blue Sky, you can see some convincing, new works by ArtsWatch correspondent Patrick Collier.
  • Charles Siegfried’s Boom, at Blackfish, also looks at the effects and aftereffects of war: it’s based on a declassified Department of Defense document detailing a communications surveillance system designed to create a “virtual fence” between North and South Vietnam.
  • Sublime Crush, a new show of dreamlike and intensely stylized landscapes by Kendra Larson, is at Augen.
  • On Friday Portland’s longtime Attic Gallery, a downtown fixture since 1973, opens its first show in its new home across the Columbia River, at 421 N.E. Cedar Street in Camas, Washington. Artists include Bill Baily, Brenda Boylan, and Mike Smith.
  • In addition to new abstract works by the always interesting Portland veteran G. Lewis Clevenger, Laura Russo Gallery will feature Looking Back: Northwest Icons, work by pioneers including Louis Bunce, William Givler, Martina Gangle Curl, Kenneth Callahan, Sally Haley, Carl & Hilda Morris, Amanda Snyder, the Runquist brothers, and others.
Louis Bunce, "Study for Fleet Mural," c. 1960, oil and mixed media on paper mounted on masonite, 25 x 41 inches. In "Looking Back: Northwest Icons" at Laura Russo.

Louis Bunce, “Study for Fleet Mural,” c. 1960, oil and mixed media on paper mounted on masonite, 25 x 41 inches. In “Looking Back: Northwest Icons” at Laura Russo.

 


 

Three things, meanwhile, stand out on the close-but-not-quite-here, start-making-plans horizon:

  • Fertile Ground 2016 runs January 21-31, bringing dozens of new theater and dance works to stages across the city, from first readings to staged readings to full productions. From the Brothers Grimm to a Box of Clowns to a Frankenstein cabaret, the possibilities are multitudinous.
  • CMNW Winter Festival: Chamber Music Northwest, far better known for its summer series of concerts, offers this concentrated winter series of reimagined masterworks – six shows and a free rehearsal January 27-February 1.
  • Biamp Portland Jazz Festival. This year’s fest runs February 18-28, and is built around a celebration of John Coltrane’s 90th birthday. Charles Lloyd, Dianne Reeves, Sonny Fortune, Gary Peacock, Elvin Jones, Bobby Torres, much more.

 


 

 

ArtsWatch links

 

Vana O'Brien and Joshua Weinstein in "4000 Miles" at Artists Rep in May, one of the Big 100 of 2015. Photo: Owen Carey

Vana O’Brien and Joshua Weinstein in “4000 Miles” at Artists Rep in May, one of the Big 100 of 2015. Photo: Owen Carey

The Big 100 of 2015. ArtsWatch’s writers and editors put their heads together and came up with 100 stories that helped define the arts in Oregon in 2015 – a kind of cultural road map of the year. From Miz Kitty’s Parlour in January to a farewell to ZooZoo in December, we sampled the distinct cultural flavors of the year.

Christmas at Coffee Creek. Just before Christmas, a group of musicians from the Oregon Symphony brought a special gift to inmates at the Coffee Creek correctional facility for women: a casual, free-wheeling holiday concert. It turned out to be a happy affair for everyone. Photographer Benji Vuong went along, and filed this photo essay for ArtsWatch.

Happy musicians, happy audience: the Oregon Symphony at Coffee Creek. Photo: Benji Vuong

Happy musicians, happy audience: the Oregon Symphony at Coffee Creek. Photo: Benji Vuong

 


 

 

About ArtsWatch Weekly

We send a letter like this every Tuesday to a select group of email subscribers, and also post it weekly on the ArtsWatch home page. In ArtsWatch Weekly, we take a look at stories we’ve covered in the previous week, give early warning of events coming up, and sometimes head off on little arts rambles we don’t include anywhere else. You can read this report here. Or, you can get it delivered weekly to your email inbox, and get a quick look at all the stories you might have missed (we have links galore) and the events you want to add to your calendar. It’s easy to sign up. Just click here, and leave us your name and e-address.

 


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We end with a couple of requests. First, if you have friends or family members who you think would enjoy our cultural writing online, could you please forward this letter to them? The bigger our circle of friends, the more we can accomplish. Second, if you’re not already a member of ArtsWatch, may we ask you to please take a moment and sign on? What you give (and your donation is tax-deductible) makes it possible for us to continue and expand our reporting and commenting on our shared culture in Oregon. Thanks, and welcome!

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Skulduggery in high places

Post5's 'Equivocation' captures the humor of Shagspeare's tussle with the king, if not always the depth

As English secretary of state under King James I, Sir Robert Cecil was a well-informed man. So well informed that although he wasn’t a theatergoer, he knew who among London’s early-17th-century playwrights was writing work that would endure. As Cecil says to William Shakespeare in the Bill Cain play Equivocation, which opened last weekend at Post5 Theatre, “People will still be performing your plays in 50 years!”

These days that really would be a lofty achievement for a playwright. But Cain’s play, first produced at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2009, might have that kind of staying power.

Rebecca Ridenour and Keith Cable: the quality of mercy, sometimes strained. Photo: Russell J Young

Rebecca Ridenour and Keith Cable: the quality of mercy, sometimes strained. Photo: Russell J Young

Honoring it with the 2010 Steinberg/ATCA Award for the best play to premiere outside of New York City, the American Theatre Critics Association called it a “fantasy-comedy-drama about Shakespeare, Jacobean skulduggery, bigotry and the relationship of art to government and artists’ personal responsibility to truth.” That is to say, there’s a lot to it.

The fantasy comes in the form of the play’s central conceit – Cecil commissioning a reluctant Shakespeare to write a play about the Gunpowder Plot, a recently foiled attempt to blow up Parliament, kill the Protestant King and return England to Catholicism – and a revisionist/speculative approach to the history of that “skullduggery.” The comedy comes from a barrelful of jokes about the Bard’s works and the collaborative tumult of a theater troupe (“If we can get through his comedies-don’t-have-to-be-funny period,” the actors gripe while slogging through a King Lear rehearsal, “we can get through this.”) And the drama has multiple nodes, most notably Shakespeare’s doubts about the government account of the plot and his fears of making a misstep amid the sectarian landmines of the time: the choice, as he puts it, to “lie or die.”

Amid all this, Cain also weaves in an ethical treatise on truth-telling (“If a dishonest man has formed the question, there will be no honest answer. Answer the question beneath the question”), a critique about the acquisition and uses of power, and the emotional tug of multiple layers of family dynamics.

Todd Van Voris (left) and Keith Cable, parsing consciences and kings. Photo: Russell J Young

Todd Van Voris (left) and Keith Cable, parsing consciences and kings. Photo: Russell J Young

Narratively and thematically, it’s an awful lot to blend and balance. “My kingdom for a red pen!” objected Washington Post critic Peter Marks when the OSF production was remounted in 2011 at Arena Stage.

Add in that it also requires its cast of six to cover a wide range of roles in dizzying (and often not discrete) succession, and Equivocation is a bear of a script to tackle. For Post5, a young company blessed with more pluck than resources, it counts as a remarkably ambitious choice.

Under Paul Angelo’s spirited direction, the Post5 Equivocation very nearly manages a grasp to match that reach. It is brisk, engaging, and funny enough that the night I saw it the couple behind me laughed so loudly I feared they might perforate an eardrum. At the same time it effectively brings out many of the threads of philosophical inquiry and political allegory that give the work its heft, as well as the feeling of fellowship and goodwill that give it some heart.

And yet, a certain vital tension is lacking.

That might not be entirely a matter of the production. When the play opened in April 2009, American use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the “War on Terror” was a matter of intense public debate, and the parallels with Cecil’s brutal treatment of his Catholic enemies gave Equivocation a sense of both chilling dread and riveting relevance. Only a couple of years later, at the Arena Stage remount, torture references didn’t seem to ring as loudly amid the fugue of themes. (Not surprisingly, the D.C. audience tended to respond most strongly to the explicitly political – such as when Cecil lambastes Shakespeare for demonizing Richard III despite the fact that he’d balanced the budget.) If anything keeps Equivocation from the American stage canon, it might be that its moral outrage on this issue will feel dated, or insufficiently immediate.

It isn’t just a matter of topicality, however. Dramatically speaking, much of the engine of Cain’s story is the dangerous predicament that Shakespeare (Shagspeare, as he’s called here, or Shag for short) finds himself in: Cecil is as much bone-breaker as king-maker, as ruthless as he is powerful, and a mere playwright ought not dare to displease him. For Shag, it’s a conflict between artistic instinct and survival instinct. And despite some vividly grim work from departing artistic director Ty Boice as a bloodied and shaken torture victim, this production doesn’t tighten the screws enough.

Shag watches as the king's thugs torture a political enemy (Ty Boice). Photo: Russell J Young

Shag watches as the king’s thugs torture a political enemy (Ty Boice). Photo: Russell J Young

The real Robert Cecil was small, so much so that his king called him “my little beagle”; so is Matthew Smith, who plays the role here, and by no means badly but mildly. What’s missing is Cecil’s imposing psychological stature, the frightful power of a tireless, mechanistic intellect wed to a wounded animal of an ego. Smith’s Cecil explains, insinuates, occasionally threatens; but he doesn’t push, pull and intimidate, seduce, trip and ensnare. He shouldn’t just defend Richard III, he should emulate him.

Keith Cable’s Shagspeare too often registers outward concern and inner conflict alike with a strained stare. When he announces, “Now I’m frightened,” in the midst of a prison visit, we wonder what took him so long; disquieting things have happened, but his face hasn’t registered his growing recognition. On the other hand, Cable seems to ease into more nuanced expression by Act II and is strong throughout in conveying the bottled-up guilt and grief that hampers his relationship with his daughter, Judith (played by Rebecca Ridenour with a mix of cynicism and stoicism that somehow comes out as loveliness).

As important as the Shag/Cecil interplay is, Equivocation relies on its ensemble work. Here the production benefits from Jim Vadala’s deft comic touch in a variety of roles, and most especially from the presence of Todd Van Voris, a new Post5 company member but for years one of the city’s great stage talents. As Richard, the de facto leader of Shakespeare’s theater troupe, and as the Jesuit Father Henry Garnet, Van Voris creates powerful, well-realized characters that ground and energize any scene they’re in.

Credit also should go to Angelo for keeping the complex plot and shifting characters clear. Some Act I moments could use more deliberate pacing as we get used to Cain’s slippery approach to point of view, and surely Dan Brusich’s lighting design would’ve delineated space even more effectively in a more thoroughly equipped house. But these are quibbles.

Finally, let’s not equivocate on this: Equivocation is a play built to last.

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Equivocation continues through October 4 at Post5 Theatre, 1666 S.E. Lambert Street, Portland. Ticket and schedule information are here.

 

A light & breezy ‘Much Ado’

Post5's rollicking screwball touch gives Shakespeare's comedy an entertaining populist flair, but takes it easy on the dark parts

When I caught up with Post5 Theatre’s Much Ado About Nothing on a not-too-sweltering Saturday night, each seat in the little Sellwood theater came equipped with a miniature hand-held fan, just in case. Curious, I fumbled with mine a bit, pressed a button in front, and – spritz! – a mist of moisture sprayed my face. The helpful woman in the next seat gently pointed out that the button for the fan part was on the back, and so it was. Still, I didn’t mind getting a little water in the kisser: it seemed to fit right in with the show.

Cassandra and Ty Boice as Beatrice and Benedick: who's chicken now? Photo: Russell J Young

Cassandra and Ty Boice as Beatrice and Benedick: who’s chicken now? Photo: Russell J Young

It wasn’t just that several of the actors were getting soaked left, right, and upside down like contestants in a wet T-shirt contest at a dive bar. It’s also that spritz and surprise are key to the company’s whole approach to this witty and subtly edgy comedy: a clowning goofiness, a touch of bawdiness, a rollicking swagger, a pie-in-the-face physicality. This production is much ado about laughter, a smooth evocation of Post5’s desire to knock the stuffiness out of Shakespeare and bring him in plain quick language to the people. It’s a friendly sort of Shakespeare, swift and well-spoken and eager to please.

And please it does, for the most part. Cassandra and Ty Boice, married in real life, make an attractive and playful Beatrice and Benedick, those squabbling would-be lovers who have to be tricked into seeing the mutual attraction that’s as plain as the noses on their rubbery faces. B&B are The Taming of the Shrew’s Petruchio and Kate without the troubling sexual politics: they’re more obviously equals, as much give as take, and bound, you get the feeling, for a true partnership (not that P&K aren’t, too, within the context of their times). The whole enterprise has a screwball-comedy feeling, a George Cukor giddiness, with exaggerated physical animism and repartee for the pure fun of repartee. Ty Boice plays the bachelor-misogynist thick and heavy at the start, then tumbles quicker than a gymnast into sappy puppy-love. Cassandra Boice digs into his ribs sharply and mercilessly, but with obvious affection and a rueful sense of reluctant self-deprecation.

Pretty much everything about the show speaks easy-to-follow, from the late ’50s/early ’60s pop soundtrack to Alana Wight-Yedinak’s casual costumes to Aaron Kissinger’s cleverly pop-up set, which finds surprising and amusing spaces all over the tight little stage for director Darragh Kennan to deploy his good-sized cast. And there are some attractive supporting performances here: Stan Brown’s Don John, whose sole excuse for his innate nastiness seems to be that he’s a bastard (this is Shakespeare, so that’s literal); Adam Eliot Davis’s garrulous bad-guy Borachio, whose run-on ad libs drive Don John nuts; Paul Angelo’s Don Pedro, the conquering hero returned from the war; Scott Parker’s gregarious Don Pedro, host to everyone and father of the would-be bride; Olivia Weiss’s Margaret, whose friskiness unleashes unanticipated mischief; Samuel G. Holloway as the Friar, who, like the friar in Romeo and Juliet, seems to have more basic common sense than pretty much anyone else on stage; and, in the major subplot, Chip Sherman as the love-smitten young soldier Claudio and Aislin Courtis as a welcomingly spirited Hero, the object of Claudio’s affection and eventual disdain: I’ve seen Hero played as pretty much nothing but a pretty face waiting to be victimized, and I like the spunk that Courtis gives her instead.

The laughs roll out as the play rolls on, and I enjoyed myself, sometimes quite a bit. Still, a couple of things kept the show from being everything I thought it might be. The first is minor and understandable, a creative idea that doesn’t pan out. For the crucial wedding scene, in which Claudio, having been led to believe that Hero is a bawd, denounces her and she falls into a dead faint, director Kennan has the cast and audience leave the theater space and troop outside to the building’s courtyard. It’s a nice setting, but the interruption breaks the flow, and it doesn’t do the audience any favors. If you’re tall or get out in time to grab one of the few outside seats, you can see the action fine. If you’re short or don’t get a seat, you find yourself straining to see what’s going on. Sometimes what seems like a good idea just isn’t.

The more consequential second drawback, I think, keeps the production from digging into the difficult dramatic territory that darkens the play when Hero is so deeply wronged, and makes the tale more than just a rollicking lark. I wish that Kennan and the Boices had put the brakes on the immediate affability between the bickering lovers – had made their self-realization seem less a foregone conclusion and more a prize they can win only by fighting through the thickets of their own self-delusions. In this key sense the production is let down by its eagerness to entertain. Benedick and Beatrice are jolly misanthropes, and the Boices give us a lot of jolliness without much misanthropy. B&B think they despise each other, and then, in this production, give it up almost on a whim: without battling to overcome their own prejudices, everything comes too easily. It deflates the fury in Beatrice’s demand of Benedick – that he kill Claudio – and robs Beatrice and Benedick of the stern morality and willingness to stand against the tide that separates them from the rest of the play’s pack. Suddenly the petty injuries inflicted amid the general amusement of the evening have mortal consequences, and the terror of the thing should be felt.

Even the lightest of Shakespeare’s comedies are jagged things, with reminders of the tragic flip side of the game, and the best productions meet that reality head-on rather than shying away from it. The Boices’ B&B are great fun as far as they go. I think they could deepen, and give the show a greater impact. What isn’t there, though, shouldn’t detract from what is: an enjoyable, approachable, and imaginative evening of Shakespeare that at its best is genuinely beguiling. It’s a cheerful Much Ado, a date-night show, an elaborate entertainment and, for the Shakespeare-phobic, a good introduction to the joys to be had inside the bardic universe.

Shakespeare’s comedies are remarkably elastic, open to varying interpretation, and it’s interesting to compare this Much Ado to the Portland Shakespeare Project’s current Twelfth Night. Both productions emphasize (in different ways) clear language and a clean narrative. Much Ado has a modern setting and Twelfth Night is traditionally Elizabethan, but that’s a surface difference. While Much Ado seems lighter than it might be, Twelfth Night seems darker than it often is: its comedy comes with a melancholic air that’s inherent in the script but not always played with such determination. Jim Butterfield’s Toby Belch is less the lovable comic drunk of many productions and more clearly a plain old sour and bleary-eyed alcoholic. Allen Nause’s fool Feste is almost bellicose, capable of something close to viciousness, joking around while a raincloud hovers over his head. David Bodin’s maltreated Malvolio does not go gently into that comic-foil night. Together, they alter the atmosphere. The stakes are pounded in sharply, and the laughter comes, but nervously.

A little nervousness might help this bright and friendly Much Ado reach a higher (or perhaps a better-rounded) plane, too. Or maybe that’s just the spritz talking.

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Much Ado About Nothing continues through August 16 at Post5 Theatre, 1666 S.E. Lambert Street. Ticket and schedule information are here.

Comedy of Errors: Post5 reclaims the real Portlandia

With a contemporary Portland twist on Shakespeare's comedy of mistaken identities, Post5 creates a farce of a farce

By CHRISTA McINTYRE

A motley crew of shipwrecked Portlanders has descended upon the stage at Post5: Rude boys, a set of twins from Wes Anderson’s Team Zissou, an uplifting curvaceous woman who keeps her employment on 82nd Avenue alongside her fur-coated Iceberg Slim creditor, and the perhaps newly iconic lumbersexual transport Shakespeare’s most superficial of plays into an evening of laughter.

Director Ty Boice takes the flattest of characters in The Comedy of Errors and matches them with their modern descendants roaming our city blocks. A farce becomes a farce of a farce as the overgrown subcultures of the last 20 years mix and meet and mistake identities.

Twin terrors of Puddletown: double your pleasure, double your fun. Photo: Russell J Young

Twin terrors of Puddletown: double your pleasure, double your fun. Photo: Russell J Young

There’s never a dull moment at Post5: the troupe love what they’re doing, and their contagious energy embraces the audience. Surveys might suggest that Portlanders have had their fill of Byzantine-decorated donuts, birds on things, sock-collecting, and keeping it weird. Post5’s production of The Comedy of Errors refreshingly allows us to once again laugh at ourselves.

Comedy is a light-hearted and fantastical jab at the nature of human relations, with familiar Shakespearean themes aplenty: twins, mistaken identities, bawdy slights, a sea voyage, imaginary landscapes, and impossible names.

Post5’s actors exude a natural chemistry, transporting the audience with their comfortable camaraderie. Chip Sherman, who lit up the stage in the company’s recent Twelfth Night as an Eartha Kitt-ish Olivia, anchors the play once again with his brilliant slapstick. As one of the Antipholus twins, he acts with a similar gregarious coyness, this time around as a rakish male. The transformation speaks volumes about his talent: he makes both men and women characters sexy and aloof.

Stan Brown, who gives us Egeon and others, suggests Shaft and Kojak, alternating his lines with a hilarious staccato and lollipop. Boyce gives the lines an old commercial jingle interpretation, and Brown’s wittily caricatured presence hallmarks the inside joke.

Borrowing from cable television shows, internet and local memes, The Comedy of Errors has a jump rhythm, and just as you’re thinking, “I know, I know what comes next,” the one-wheeled man of all seasons, The Unipiper, breaks the final wall. The only missing Oregon elements to the play, it seems, are a cat and Steve Prefontaine.

There’s nothing like being in a room filled with people and regaining a healthy sense of the creativity that Portland has yet to untap. The Comedy of Errors has no life-changing emotional insight, but Post5 has a wonderful aesthetic for translating the biggest of English literary icons into a restless passion and making a room break into laughter. Take some time to see this comedy at Post5. They soon could be a citywide treasure, and may have to make a play about themselves.

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The Comedy of Errors runs through June 27 at Post5 Theatre. Ticket and schedule information are here.