Last night we went over to Laurelhurst Park for some Shakespeare. The Original Practice Shakespeare Company, which could only do Zoom Performances during the Covid Shutdown, is now back to performing its open air, 18-play repertoire in person!
Original Practice means that this talented troupe of players prepares for and performs the plays as the troupes did in Shakespeare’s day. Since there were no copyright laws and printed scripts could be stolen and performed elsewhere, each player was given a scroll with only their lines. Also, since each troupe would perform many plays on a very tight schedule, rehearsals were non-existent. Each performance was, and is, a new experience.
It is delightful!
Twelfth Night is a raucous comedy, full of gender switching and mistaken identities, pompous aristocrats and clever underlings. Performed by the talented OPS, it had us laughing, cheering, booing and swooning.
Sitting in lawn chairs under the trees, enjoying Shakespeare, snacks and wine and surrounded by people, kids, and dogs also enjoying their snacks and wine, is a uniquely Portland experience. I have missed it more than I can say and am grateful to have it back.
Saturday afternoon, after shopping and lunch, we headed off to Laurelhurst Park for… A Comedie of Errors! The afternoon was sunny and hot, and since the stage area was in sun, we sat in the sun, hoping the shade would get to us eventually.
This story of two sets of identical twins, mistaken identities, romantic and financial entanglements was very well done, funny, and surprisingly touching. Two women, (Shakespeare wrote them as men but women work very well), identical twins both named Antipholus, are separated during a shipwreck as infants, one with the mother, one with the father. Their boy servants (also identical twins, both named Dromio) are separated with them.
The play begins 30 or so years after the shipwreck, with the twins and their servants as adults. I won’t try to explain it all here, but the play is a raucous, well-written romp guaranteed to entertain lowlifes and high brows alike.
The acting was wonderful! Since Original Practice Shakespeare is a repertoire company, we get to see actors play different parts in different plays. It is fun to see a tragic queen become the Prompter, or a person with a small part in a different play take center stage and steal every scene!
It changes your understanding of acting, casting, and life in general….Even if you are really good at what you do, it doesn’t ALWAYS have to be about YOU.
Since this weekend is the Grand Finale Weekend of “Will Fest”, the last weekend of the OPS season, Saturday evening was also Shakespeare in Laurelhurst…Hamlet!
Grandpa Nelson hates the play because the main character is so indecisive, so Grandpa stayed home and Auntie Bridgett and I went over. It was also very good.
Hamlet was cast as a young woman, (played by Lauren Saville Allard) which, in my mind, changed what I expected of her. I had always wanted male Hamlet to get it over with and revenge his father, but of female Hamlet, I wanted more introspection…so I guess I like female Hamlet better!
This year we have gotten to see my favorite actor, Jennifer Lanier, in all the plays. She was Prospero in The Tempest last year, and Polonius in Hamlet, and Sir Toby Belch Twelfth Night. She is delightful.
We have two more plays of this season, if we are Shakespeare strong enough!
After I got back from my bus and train adventure to visit Terry, I rested up a little before we headed off to Laurelhurst Park for another production of Original Practice Shakespeare. This is the troupe of actors that doesn’t do regular rehearsals, and each actor carries a little scroll with their lines on it. They have an on-stage prompter, dressed in a referee uniform, who keeps everything running smoothly and occasionally stops the actions to ask, “So, Richard, how’s it going?”
They do it this way for two reasons. First, it is how Shakespeare’s plays were performed while Shakespeare was still writing them. Second, it allows a small group of actors to do 6 different plays a week, because no one has to absolutely memorize a whole play…they always have their lines with them.
Because the actors haven’t rehearsed this play as a group, the performances can be uneven. Our last experience with them, A Midsummer Nights Dream at the top of Mt. Tabor, wasn’t fabulous. The staging was confusing, the costumes didn’t make sense, and the actors were not very prepared. So we were skeptical.
Still, free Shakespeare is something to see when you have the chance, so we went. And we were not disappointed.
This production of the historical tragedy of Richard III, was beautiful, emotional, and so well acted that every line of every character made sense. Brian Burger, who played the evil, scheming Richard, used his soliloquies to bring the audience in on his plans, and sort of made us co-conspirators. We knew what terrible things he was going to do, and we enjoyed watching him do them.
The costumes were well chosen and helped define the characters. This troupe does a lot of cross casting, with women playing men’s roles, but they did it so well!
One scene was even more poignant with a woman, Ariel Puls, playing Lord Stanley. She wore a costume that was military, but wore her blonde hair in a pony tail and was clearly a woman. When Richard tells her she may go raise more troops, but she must leave her son with him as a hostage against her treason (which she is indeed planning), a mother’s pain is shown with her whole body. Fortunately, Richard is defeated at the Battle of Bosworth Field before he has a chance to kill the boy.
We cheered for the good guys and booed for Richard, some of us yelling advice to the actors when they seemed to need it.
It was a rousing, fun evening, and we walked home happy and exhausted.
On Friday night, we tried a new pub for dinner, The Thirsty Monk, on SE 32nd just off Hawthorne. Actually, we had been there last summer, but only for a beer on a hot day while the Hawthorne Street fair was going on. We had tacos, french fries, and yummy chips. We have now added it to our list of favorite places!
Friday night was also the first play of the season for the Original Practice Shakespeare Company. As I told you last summer, this is a group of people who put on free Shakespeare plays in the city parks, and they don’t rehearse! Each actor has his or her own lines on a scroll in their hand, but they don’t practice together and don’t know what the other actor’s lines are.
As you can imagine, this leads to a different sort of play. The lines don’t flow smoothly and sometimes the actors get lost. There is a prompter, like a referee, who gets them (and us) back on track. It feels very improvisational, and is sometimes disjointed. Last summer, we saw some good plays and some that were hard to follow.
The play was performed at the top of Mt. Tabor, just a few miles east of our house. It has lovely views west to the city and east to Mt. Hood, trails for hiking, roads for driving, and stairs to the top. The stairs were a challenge, but it felt good to earn our way into the free play. I took pictures and enjoyed the views, as well as watching the people who came to see the show.
But the play was hard to follow, even though it was one we all knew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In addition to the un-rehearsed quality, all the lovers were played by women. The “he” and “she” pronouns that usually helped keep track of players were gone, and at Intermission many people, including us, decided it was too chilly to try to follow the play, and we all headed back down the mountain and drove home.
On Saturday we did laundry and dishes and such chores around the house, had lunch, and then headed over to Laurelhurst Park for another Shakespeare play, called As You Like It.
This is one of my favorite plays, and one that my momma liked very much, too. It is about people who, because of a big fight in their family, leave their fancy castle and go live in the forest. There, they meet other people and find out that they can be happy wherever they are, as long as they are with the people they love. There is wrestling, and cross-dressing, singing, people falling in love, and lots of puns and jokes.
The play was great, but what made the afternoon perfect was the lovely park. On the little rise in a clearing of linden trees, dappled shade keeping us cool, every breeze shook tiny leaves down, we sat on our comfy lawn chairs and loved every minute. Not far away across the grass a wedding party was setting up (more about this later).
This play had a Prompter, who did the usual job of reminding actors of their next line, but also wore a referee’s striped shirt and whenever she felt the need, would blow her whistle.
When the wedding party got loud because of a pinata, she blew her whistle. “We’ve got quite a pinata party happening here behind me, can you repeat that line please?”
When Orlando was confused about who he was falling in love with, she blew it again. “Orlando, how do you feel about this? What’s going on here?”
This made everything fun and friendly, and also cleared up some points of the play that I have never understood….like why the old Duke was in the forest to begin with, or that there are, indeed, two characters named Jacques.
We watched the play to the end and even got to talk to the young actor who played one of the Jacques, then we headed home because Grandpa Nelson and I were having dinner with Gary, who was best man when Grandpa Nelson and I got married, and his wife Carol. We drove to get there because the restaurant, Seasons and Regions, is over on the southwest side of town, on SW Capitol Highway. They serve mostly seafood and it is absolutely delicious.
The four of us talked for 3 hours, catching up on our jobs, kids, parents, and the trials and joys of life. And of course, I forgot to take pictures! Then we drove home, talked about our day until we were sleepy, and conked out.
Yesterday was hot again, but we had fun anyway. Grandpa Nelson’s cousin Sara and her husband Jim were in town visiting their new grandson, and they came by to visit. It was too hot to be comfortable at our house, so we drove across town to Genie’s, a cool cafe across Division Street from Auntie Katie’s store, Books with Pictures. The food was very good and the service was chatty and quick.
After lunch, I went across the other street to Gordito’s Mexican restaurant to get Auntie Katie a burrito for her lunch, since she was working in the store and needed to eat standing up. After lunch we went back to our house and talked for hours about family history and all the cousins…there are a lot of cousins in Grandpa Nelson’s family!
Sara and Jim left to beat the rush hour traffic to Lake Oswego and Grandpa Nelson, Auntie Bridgett and I went out to see some art galleries for First Friday. They are all within three blocks of us, so it was a short, but very warm, walk. Side Street Gallery is closing but will re-open as a co-op, a gallery run by the artists who display their work there.
Wolff Gallery was mostly collages from photographs. True Measure Gallery had really modern, interesting paintings by Jesse Reno, Jesse Narens and Melissa Monroe.
When we were tired of the heat we went back home and watched the Giants lose on TV. And I took a nap. About 8:30 I woke up and we decided it was cool enough to go for a short walk through Laurelhurst Park. We didn’t hear the hawks, but quite a ways into the park, we saw lights and heard shouting, and there was a Shakespeare troupe, (different from the one we saw in Lone Fir Cemetery) called “Original Practice Shakespeare”, performing a history play called Richard III.
It is a very good play about a very bad king.
“Original Practice” means they do the plays as they were done in Shakespeare’s time (he worked from 1590 to 1613). What is different from modern plays is that each actor is only given their own lines, not the whole script to the play, and they do almost no rehearsals with the whole troupe. This means that the actors make some mistakes, and are sometimes surprised by what is happening, but it is so much fun to watch!
The audience was sitting on fold up chairs and having snacks and water. They were even heckling, which means booing or cheering, during the show. In “Original Practice”, this is totally polite, because the audiences in Shakespeare’s time DID heckle! I guess you could tell if you were playing a bad guy really well, because the audience would yell at you!
Once the play was over, we walked back home. Far off across the park we heard an owl hooting, which made us happy. We had heard that the owls weren’t in Laurelhurst Park anymore, but if we heard them, they still are. They were awake and hunting, but it was time for us to sleep.