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Review: Aida by Skagit Opera

November 15th, 2014

by Zoe Bronstein
Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida, presented by the Skagit Opera, rings just as passionate and gorgeous as it must have done in 1871. The well-known opera is one of Verdi’s most successful tragedies, chronicling the doomed love story (as many operas tend to be) between an Egyptian soldier and an Ethiopian princess. The production is an amazing mix of historical fiction, romance, politics, betrayal, duty, and some truly epic music.
As the entire opera is in Italian, with supertitles projected over the top of the stage, some synopsis is necessary.
At the top of the show, it is shown that Aida (Corinna Quilliam), a captive princess turned slave, loves Radames (Mathew Edwardsen). Radames receives news of the Ethiopian army advancing on Egypt’s border. The enemy is led by Aida’s father Amonasro (Yuseuk Oh), to rescue his enslaved daughter. Radames uses his new pull to spare Amonasro’s life out of love for Aida, but unwittingly becomes betrothed to the Egyptian princess Amneris (Erin Murphy) in the process.
On the eve of the wedding, Amonasro, Aida, and Radames almost flee, but are caught just in time. Father and daughter escape, but Radames is tried and convicted for treason, sentenced to suffocate to death in an underground crypt. As he faces his death, he discovers that Aida has already locked herself in the same crypt, unable to live without him. The show ends on a surprisingly tranquil note, as the lovers peacefully accept their fate and are just grateful to be together at last.
Corinna Quilliam plays Aida’s inner battles with conviction as she tries to keep her royal roots a secret from her captors, and her soprano voice has a romantic, light-filled quality. Mathew Edwardsen’s strong tenor and great presence makes him a perfect choice for Egypt’s favorite soldier.
Erin Murphy’s Amneris completes the love triangle. Murphy portrays the Egyptian princess’s constant war with her own emotions, full of unrequited love for Radames and jealousy of her own slave girl while also concerned for the state of her country.
The moment Yuseuk Oh entered as Amonasro, a change came over the entire audience. His baritone has a magical, rich quality, and his confrontation scene with Quilliam is packed with tension.
General director Mitchell Kahn has assembled a cast of fine performers, leads and chorus alike, on a stark, brightly lit stage to emulate the deserts and palaces of ancient Egypt. The stage direction by Erich Parce is simple and instinctive. Bernard Kwiram conducts a large pit orchestra, producing a full, rich and romantic sound. The many stage locales are built by Ray Riches and Steve Somers, and painted by Don Smith. The period costuming has some added flair from costumers Mary MacConnaughey, Cynthia Cherney, Suzanne Kahn, Kim Somers, and Gussie and Gertie’s Costume Rental.
The strength in Skagit Opera’s Aida lies in the talent of the entire ensemble to pull off not only difficult and rousing music, but a plot that has no true antagonists. All characters act in the best interest of their own love. Whether it be romantic, familial, or patriotic, love is the main motivation of every character, highlighting the tragedy of this timeless work.
Aida runs November 7, 9, 14, and 16, at McIntyre Hall in Mt. Vernon. Friday shows begin at 7:30pm, and Sunday matinees are at 3pm. Tickets are available online at mcintyrehall.org and by phone at 360-416-7727, with prices ranging between $25 and $59. Audiences are encouraged to attend the pre-performance lecture 30 minutes prior to the show to hear about the performance, history, costumes, and more.

Review: Northwest Ballet Theater’s opening night of Dracula

October 22nd, 2014

By Daniella Beccaria

Northwest Ballet Theater’s enchanting and thrilling performance revealing the legend of Count Dracula brought the audience to their feet in a well-deserved standing ovation on opening night Saturday, October 18.

Dracula and Mina photo by John Fischer

Dracula and Mina
photo by John Fischer


The performance featured the brilliant director and dancer John Bishop himself, as well as a few guest artists in a heart-racing tale of love and death.

Act I opens on Dracula’s lair where Jonathan Harker, played by Bishop, is signing papers. Dracula emerged with a commanding solo of high jetés and quick turns: a choreographic treat showcasing Joshua Deininger’s talent for flying high.

The scene shifted to focus the spotlight on Renfield, a curiously disturbed mad man played by guest artist, Alona Christman. In the solo that followed, Christman’s deranged and manic dance captured all eyes of the audience, following her through a beautiful and tragic modern dance number.

Guest artist Natasha Keeley danced a dark and mesmerizing Countess Bathory, as she battled for control over Christman (Renfield) and his ship for Dracula’s transport. The sharp contrast in their characters accompanied by their performance prominently featuring a table was reminiscent of the battle between Neil and Sabra in the 2009 So You Think You Can Dance performance to “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This.)”

NBT’s Delci Syvertson showed a defining strength and talent in her dancing in her role as Lucy, a flirty young girl who’s seduced by Dracula. Syvertson’s beautiful lines and extensions paired with a natural acting ability brought a refreshing youthfulness amidst the darkness of Dracula.

As the story unfolded, the corps de ballet proved to be strong in both technique and acting. Each of the girls took on their roles with confidence, and their hard work in rehearsals truly showed in their performance.

Act II came as a whirlwind of drama and violence as Jonathan, Mina, Dr. Van Helsing and Arthur thwarted Lucy’s vampiric rebirth all the while fending off the wraiths and vampires. During this time, the Queen Wraith dances among them in an electrifying and sinister performance by Amanda Alexander.

The corps de ballet immersed themselves into their roles once again but this time as vampires. It was easy to see they were enjoying themselves just as much as the audience enjoyed watching them.

Guest artist Shannan McCormick Behrens, who danced the role of Mina Harker, exhibited her exquisite technique and graceful beauty in her pas de deux with Dracula. Each lift seemed more effortless than the one before; a performance that truly showcased her attention to detail.

With only two more performances this weekend at the Mt. Baker Theater, Dracula is definitely a ballet worth sinking your teeth into.

You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown at Bellingham Theatre Guild

September 26th, 2014

Happiness Is by Sandy Hornlocker

The Bellingham Theatre Guild’s 86th Season opener is “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.” The play is based on the Peanuts comic strip produced by Charles Schultz from 1950 to 2000, with music and lyrics written by Clark Gesner. It was first staged off-Broadway in 1967, and had a short one-year run on the Great White Way.

Everyone still loves Peanuts. Smart and funny, quick and clever, this show has more staying power than Rugrats and South Park combined.

full cast1

The first time I saw this show I was in high school. The year was 1973, which also happens to be the year director Michelle Kriz was born. Yes, I am old, don’t judge me. The ageless irony and humor that has sustained this musical for over 45 years is deftly captured by Kriz’ creative vision, assisted by more-than-able Heidi Sackerson. What I have come to appreciate most about Kriz when she directs is that her audiences will be presented with something unexpected or surprising, yet familiar and always entertaining.

From the opening number just sit back and enjoy the ride watching these well-known and loved characters, running off and on stage, singing, dancing, regaling us with the World According to Schultz. Charlie Brown is played by Jeremy Loween, the Charlie Brown-i-est Charlie Brown I have ever seen. Charlie’s little sister Sally is embodied by Cary Thomas, who shines when she delivers the funniest and most powerful one-two punch in response to her hanger project for art class. Schroeder is played by TJ Anderson who is always fun to watch on stage, and hearing him sing is always a gift. Les Campbell is Linus, who dances and sings to his blanket so sweetly, it’s as if we are interrupting a private moment. Zoe Bronstein is self-proclaimed Queen and super crabby Lucy, who dominates the second act with a flourish. I loved her as the big sister the most during her rendition of “Little Known Facts.” Thomas Beirne’s credible howl as Snoopy is so enchanting, if I wasn’t allergic to dogs, I might consider getting one, just hoping it could howl as plaintively.

Music Director Steve Barnes never disappoints, and with John Bisceglia and Alex Roemmele, he rounds out his band of three. Barnes consistently brings musicians to the table who, even though they are together for just a short time, produce a tight sound. The choreography was fun and confident, kudos to choreographer Michelle VanLeuwen Ahrens.

Campbell, a man of many hats, designed and painted the set to look just like the Sunday paper opened to the funny pages. He is also the artist behind the projected graphics that appear on the back wall to punctuate the action. Genny Cohn, costumer extraordinaire, has worked her magic.

Lit expertly by Ryan Goelzenleuchter with Dee Dee O’Connor’s assistance and Alan Peet Ballyhoo-ing (making the spotlight dance in figure 8’s on the stage) with the best of them. They are are a stunning backdrop to the on-stage action.

All of the on-off-who’s-in-who’s-out action of the comic strip keeps moving without a hitch, thanks to stage manager Brittany Sterling.

Kriz and company have created this live-action cartoon strip for your complete pleasure on the BTG stage, appropriate for audiences from 4 to 104. Don’t miss your chance to see your favorite characters come to life.

7:30 pm shows: Sept. 26, 27, Oct. 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11
2:00 pm matinees: Sept. 28, Oct. 5, 12
Ticket Prices $14 Adults | $12 Seniors/Students | $8 Children
Ticket Office Phone 360-733-1811
Hours 1 to 6 pm, Tuesdays through Saturdays
1600 H Street, Bellingham

The Sound of Music at Claire vg Thomas Theatre

September 26th, 2014

The Claire is Alive with The Sound of Music
by Zoe Bronstein
When Teri Grimes gave her opening night speech for The Sound of Music, she warned the audience “This is NOT a sing-a-long.” The famous Rodgers & Hammerstein show, with book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, does need that disclaimer, because nearly every song from Do-Re-Mi to My Favorite Things, to Sixteen Going on Seventeen, and more, has become a classic in its own right thanks to the 1965 movie version starring Julie Andrews. Heed director Grimes’ warning: don’t sing along if you can help it. You’ll miss out on hearing some truly beautiful voices.

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The well-known musical is based on the memoir of Maria von Trapp, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. In short, the plot concerns Maria’s move from awkward postulant to governess in pre-World War II Austria. She unwittingly wins the heart of her employer, a decorated military man sought after by the Third Reich. After much deliberation, they marry, but must escape Nazi occupation in a dramatic final scene.
Laura Loween, as Maria, brings a gentle disposition and soothing, effortless vibrato to every song. She is cast opposite Leif Egertson as Captain von Trapp. Their chemistry together is not noticeable at first, as Egertson must intimidate and tower over the diminutive Loween, but as the Captain softens towards her, their pairing seems more and more sweet.
Deborah Ogle plays the Mother Abbess who first sends Maria to work for the von Trapps, and she is simply wonderful. She presents a more lighthearted interpretation of a traditionally somber character, and her voice is magnificent. If I had Ogle sing “Climb Every Mountain” to me every time I had a problem I didn’t want to face, life would be so much more epic.
But it wouldn’t be The Sound of Music without the children. Megan Sutton, Jonathan Henry, Emma Jardinski, Daniel Jardinski, Josiah Rinehart, Kathryn McKinney, Lillian Holt, Gracie Macdonald, Grace Jardinski, and Meg Clarke make up the seven von Trapp children, with three of the roles double-cast. More than just making pretty harmonies while looking adorable together, they believably interact like siblings onstage.
Megan Sutton, as eldest daughter Liesl, has her own storyline with Ian Slater as Rolfe, her love interest. Their “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” is a great song and dance number filled with romantic tension.
Music director Cindy Henninger conducts a chorus made up of primarily female voices, and especially during the religious music in the convent, the voices soar. Period costumes are provided by Genny Cohn, with set design by her husband David Cohn. Ryan Goelzenleuchter is the light designer, and he washes the stage in a warm, romantic glow for much of the first part of the production. The hills mentioned in “The Hills Are Alive” are as much a character in the show as the rest of the cast, and they are represented by a colorful backdrop by artist Cindy Moe.
Performances of The Sound of Music play September 24-26, October 2-4, 9-11 at 7:30pm. Matinees are at 2pm on September 27 and 28, and October 4 and 12. Tickets are available at the door and at http://www.clairevgtheatre.com.

Little Shop of Horrors at Mount Baker Theatre

September 24th, 2014

I Could Make A Meal Out of That by Marla Bronstein

Once again Mount Baker Theatre has undertaken the challenge of producing all aspects of one of the longest-running off-Broadway shows of all time, a full length musical, interspersing non-equity industry professionals with local talent. In fact, seven of the 13 actors and puppeteers in the show are either originally from Whatcom County or have studied at WWU.

photo credit: Damian Vines

photo credit: Damian Vines

The talented Conner Pierson, as down-and-out skid row floral assistant Seymour Krelborn, is an utter mensch throughout the show. Seymour works for Mr. Mushnik (Curtis Jacobson) who seems to have popped off a 1950’s movie set. Seymour loves co-worker Audrey (Chauncey Trask) from afar. Trask graced us with a gorgeous rendition of “Somewhere That’s Green.” Audrey’s abusive sadistic dentist boyfriend, Orin (Shane Patrick Hoffmann) wins for most evil creepy laugh.

Seymour discovers a “strange and unusual plant”with a craving for fresh blood. “Audrey II” has the ability to bring Seymour fame and fortune in exchange for feeding its growing appetite.

If you know the story, I don’t need to tell you what happens next, if you don’t, be prepared for the absurd and bizarre as you would only see in a 1950’s sci-fi movie.

The film score was written by the songwriting team of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, of Disney fame. The music and lyrics are catchy, memorable and will be firmly planted in your earworm garden.

Every other version of the play I have seen only has three Doo Wop girls. A narrating chorus if you will. Musical Director Rob Viens thankfully did not subscribe to the “less is more” casting Sonia Alexis, Heather McQuarrie, Kristen Natalia, Sarah Russell, Ashley Van Curler and Akilah Williams, all of whom have equally powerful voices who sing, belt and harmonize beautifully.

My other must-mention-because-he-was-hysterical was Evan Woltz, who served as the booming, R&B voice of Audrey II, as well as other miscellaneous characters.

When I saw the 1986 movie with Rick Moranis and Ellen Green, I almost believed the plant talked and ate humans. At live theater, I didn’t expect to watch the plant actually devour the actors as an early evening snack. Ken Michels, Audrey II’s puppeteer, said in his bio that he had a history of playing Audrey II, and from what I saw of the puppet after the show, this is a role that cannot be taken lightly! Michels and Rebecca Cort, the “baby Audrey” puppeteers were thoroughly absorbed in their roles!

In Act II, after the, ahem, exit of the Dentist, Hoffman covers a multitude of other roles that required very quick and creative costume changes. My compliments to costumer Jessica Carr and the crew.

I don’t know where the rest of the artistic team is from, if not the staff of MBT, but charming director, Bud Coleman, has returned to Bellingham after last year’s success with MBT’s The Producers. Local Rob Viens as Musical Director has amassed an amazing band of musicians. John Evans French, Jorge Cantu, Kevin George and Dylan Kane sound like much more than five guys in a pit.

MBT has consistently pulled together phenomenally beautiful sets for their main stage shows. Jim Zoehrer and Randy Storms, working off the designs of Jason Coale (who I understand never stepped foot into MBT) built and painted a stunning set and pulled together a great in-house effect that I won’t ruin for you here. Go see it for yourself.

Note to parents, I observed at least one child leave the theater during intermission in frightened tears at the end of Act I. Act I was tamer than Act II.

Date: Sep 24th, 25th, 26th, 27th, 2014 7:30 PM
Sep 27th, 28th 2014 3:00 PM

Price: Tickets $45.00/$40.00/$35.00/$20.00 plus applicable fees. Group discounts available – call (360) 734-6080

Last of the Red Hot Lovers – MBT Summer Rep in the Walton Theatre

July 21st, 2014

Hot Hot Hot by Marla Bronstein
Classic Neil Simon at his best is presented by The MBT Summer Rep’s performance of Last of the Red Hot Lovers.
Walbeck plays Barney Cashman, the poster child for all schlubs. 47 year old Barney owns a fish restaurant, and except for 15 minutes with a 44 year old hooker when he was 18, is lamenting the fact that in the middle of the sexual revolution, the only woman he has ever had sex with is Thelma, his wife of 23 years.
I had seen the publicity photos, and yet had to see for myself. Local icon Sean Walbeck wearing a tie (three ties) the correct way. Sigh. Miracles do happen.
We watch Barney enthusiastically, incessantly, frustratingly painfully, and unsuccessfully attempt to change this status. Using his mother’s apartment, he has a few hours to “get-er-done” before his mother gets home from work at 5pm.
First we meet Elaine Navazio, played by Seattle’s Imogen Love, a brash, whiskey slugging redhead with a smoker’s cough that could choke a horse. Barney gets to first base, drawing blood in the process and practically breaking a hip.
A second attempt is months later with a different girl, Barney thinks he’s going to score with Bobbi Michele, performed by local Shelby Windom, a pot smoking wanna be actress he picked up in the park. When he gets too stoned to round the bases, they end up doing no more than singing pop songs and primal screaming before the evening ends.
A few more months of screwing up courage, and Jeannette Fisher appears at the door, played by Portland’s Kim Bogus. Jeanette happens to be a friend of Thelma`s who is trying to get back at her husband for cheating. Jeanette’s deadpan delivery demanding that Barney identify at least three people who are decent, loving and kind, made my stomach ache from laughing.
As is expected by Simon, Barney delivers the best straight lines to the women, each of whom was completely different yet equally strong in their performance and hit every mark with a one two punch.
Walbeck is funniest at his physical comedy…whether it’s trying to get the smell of fish off his fingers or being stoned to the point of experiencing primal scream therapy. Every cast member had their time to cause the audience to roar with laughter.
Director Ken Michels used every inch of the stage as set in the round to his advantage. Directing a director (Walbeck) can be a challenge, yet Michels never breaks a sweat.
Barney`s mother apparently never taught her son to not jump on the furniture. The set design was perfectly reminiscent of my grandmother’s apartment in the late 60’s which she, too, kept decorated as if it were the 40’s. I was a bit thrown by the Bloomingdale’s Little Brown Bag which didn’t actually appear in the store until 1973, a few years after the play’s 1969 setting.
My compliments to the lighting and sound designers, who kept a careful eye on the actors as they opened and shut window blinds and rang doorbells.
Last of the Red Hot Lovers plays:Jul 16th, 19th, 22nd, 25th, 31st, Aug 6th, 9th, 7:30PM, Aug 3rd, 3:00PM
Venue: Walton Theatre
Price: Tickets $25.00 adults, $12.50 students w/ valid i.d. plus applicable fees. Group discounts available – call (360) 734-6080

Talley’s Folly – MBT Summer Rep in the Walton Theatre

July 21st, 2014

Summer Lovin’ by Marla Bronstein

Every summer the Mount Baker Theater produces the Summer Rep Series, treating patrons to performances that allow both equity and non-equity actors to play together on stage. This summer, along with Becky’s New Car and Last of the Red Hot Lovers, is Talley’s Folly which earned a 1980 Pulitzer Prize for author Lanford Wilson as part of the “Talley Trilogy.”

The “Folly” is the dilapidated boat house in Lebanon, Missouri, built by elder Talley, as described eloquently by Matthew, an accountant visiting from St. Louis. He is there to tell us about what happened way back in the summer of 1944, when he went to court Talley’s niece Sally. Matthew, a nice Jewish boy, and Sally, a former Methodist Sunday school teacher, had a tryst the summer before, and while Matthew can’t get over Sally (he’s been sending her letters every week) Sally is playing hard to get, and only accidentally admits that she’s read more than one of them.

When the lights first come up on Robert Pescovitz (Matthew) he tells us we will be his audience for 97 minutes to tell his story. Pescovitz has a long list of stage and screen credits behind him. As if he’s having a casual conversation with us, he sets the scene for us. At the completion of the exposition, he offered to repeat himself in case anyone in the audience missed something. I personally and immensely enjoyed his repetition of his opening, which he performed at break neck speed. The audience seemed to appreciate it as well.

Part of the joy of this Rep series is that we are treated to performances by actors and actresses who were, at one time, part of the local theater scene. Laura Engels returns to Bellingham and brings depth to Sally’s angst and heartbreak.

Matthew is not without his demons. As a child, he had suffered great personal loss, and, until meeting Sally, felt no hope.

While this all sounds pretty heavy, this show is not without its comic relief. Matthew and Laura banter like an old married couple. What people in 1944 thought it might be like in1980 is always funny. And who would have thought there could be ice skating on an indoor stage in the middle of July?

Esteemed guest director Lamby Hedge makes full use of the theater in the round and the simply designed stage. She’s outfitted a hexagonal wooden platform with a few set pieces consisting of crates, barrels and boxes. Hidden within are old ice skates and a working (electric) lantern. Hedge gives equal time to every patron in the theatre for face to face time with the actors, whether they are chatting, arguing, wrestling, dancing or ice skating.

Designers Alison Terry (sound) and Sara Kaiser (lighting) keep everything understated, so as to not distract from the work of the actors.

In the end, Matthew proved to be the mensch every mother would want to have marry her daughter.

Jul 15th, 18th, 24th, 30th, Aug 2nd, 5th, 8th, 7:30 PM
Jul 27th, 3:00 PM,
Venue: Walton Theatre
Price: Tickets $25.00 adults, $12.50 students w/ valid i.d. plus applicable fees. Group discounts available – call (360) 734-6080. Website http://www.mountbakertheatre.com

Becky’s New Car – MBT Summer Rep in the Walton Theatre

July 18th, 2014

By Teri Grimes

Originally commissioned and produced by ACT Theatre in Seattle, the 2008 comedy Becky’s New Car by Steven Dietz is a paean to the dubious joys of the mid-life crisis. This rollicking ride with Becky Foster, played with depth and great sympathy by Bonnie Brennan Hollingsworth, is a masterful, heartfelt comedy that sparkles with witty dialogue, an utter lack of fourth wall, and moments of touching pathos.
Directed by WWU’s Beth Leonard, the show is staged in the round, and the script works delightfully with the intimate setting as the actors acknowledge and address the audience throughout the play. At various times, Becky asks the audience to help with a leaky roof, collate paperwork, and help her with an important decision in her personal life. The simple set gives us locations vital to Becky’s life – her home, her office at the car dealership, and the terrace of Walter Flood’s mansion. Becky races from one locale to another with increasing difficulties as the plot escalates.
The theme of Becky’s New Car is a line that Becky delivers – that when a woman says “she wants a new car, she wants a new life.” Well, Becky wants a new car. And when millionaire, Walter Flood stumbles into Becky’s office late one night to buy nine cars as gifts to his staff – Becky’s new life commences. In fact, her new life tumbles into a series of deceits so tangled that Becky’s life becomes absolutely Shakespearean in its machinations. Oh, it is a tangled web she weaves! The lies and silences practiced by Becky nearly make her the villain in her own story, but Dietz never lets Becky off the hook, thereby making a truly funny comedy into something a lot deeper.
The cast of the show is stellar. They deftly handle the challenge of balancing farce with true emotional depth. Hollingsworth is delightful and completely believable in the title role, and she is supported by strong performances from the entire cast. Local theatre guru, Sean Walbeck, plays Becky’s blue collar husband, Joe. Walbeck’s honest-to-the-bone acting makes us both laugh and cry for his long-suffering character. Becky’s new love interest, Walter Flood, is played with devastating and quirky charm by Curt Simmons. Simmons comic timing is absolutely masterful, and we hope Bellingham audiences get the opportunity to see more of him. Shae Hughes, a recent Western grad, plays car salesman Steve, a self-involved widower. Hughes’ energy is contagious and he has a delightful monologue that left the audience gasping from belly laughs. Western theatre students, Sam Schultz and Shelby Windom play the twenty-something’s who meet and fall in love. The twist in the plot is that Kenni (Windom) is Walter’s daughter, and Chris (Schultz) is Becky and Joe’s son. Oops. Sam Schultz’ grasp of his characters psycho-babble is very funny, and Windom gives a smaller role unexpected depth. Seattle actress, Imogen Love, sizzles in the role of Ginger, who has recently lost all of her trust-fund wealth, and now works as a bartender, giving an entirely new meaning to the phrase “mid-life crisis.”
Becky’s New Car is a wonderful ride. Dietz has created a disarmingly thoughtful comedy that will live with the audience long after the lights go down.

July 15 – August 10, 2014
Becky’s New Car plays 7/20 and 8/10 at 3:00 p.m.
7/23, 7/26, 7/29, 8/1, and 8/7 at 7:30 p.m.
$25.00 general admission/$12.50 Students
www.MountBakerTheatre.com
360.734-6080

Much Ado About Something

July 11th, 2014

by Marla Bronstein

This is only the second time I have attended a play performed as part of the Skagit River Shakespeare Festival, a program of Shakespeare Northwest. The 2014 season features “Much Ado About Nothing,” directed by Diana Farnsworth and “Macbeth,” directed by Trey Hatch. Full disclaimer, “Much Ado About Nothing” is one of the few Shakespeare plays I had not ever seen or read or studied. From my previous experience with the Bard, I knew I would need to diagram the characters and relationships so that when I arrived at the performance grounds I could just pay attention to the story. It helped me enjoy the play thoroughly.

Everything that I had read about the story indicated to me that it was about about Hero and Claudio, sweetly played by Lydia Randall and Danny Herter. And that it was about Hero’s mother Leonata, a cross-gendered casting strongly played by Beth Greatorex) and Claudio’s friend Don Pedro, deftly played by Bjorn A. Whitney who are the catalyst for their meeting and, inevitable falling-in-love and getting-engaged-to-be-married. It’s also about Hero’s cousin Beatrice and Claudio’s friend Benedick, who are well-played, well-matched and well-married in real life Akilah Williams and Christopher C. Cariker. Benedick and Beatrice banter and word spar when they are in each other’s presence, which tells Hero and Claudio that Benedick and Beatrice are perfect for each other.

Don Pedro’s evil brother, Don John, played by Trey Hatch, is one of those people who is annoyed by the happiness of others. He’s what my mother would have called an Alter kocker. He decides to use Borachio, one of his two henchmen to create the ruse of Hero’s infidelity to Claudio on the eve of the wedding. The unfaithful act is reported to Claudio and when he confronts Hero at the alter, she drops dead in shame.

Well, she’s not really dead, but she is to Hero. And to her mother. This is the moment the feminist in me got annoyed.

In fairness, I decided to let Mr. Shakespeare finish telling his story, to give him a chance to redeem himself.

Hero being dumped at the alter resulted in Beatrice and Benedick finally declaring their love for each other. Benedick loves Beatrice hook line and sinker, like the John Legend Song “All of Me.” Benedick is a keeper. Beatrice tells him to avenge her cousin, and off he goes.

Enter the constable, Dogberry, a very funny and acerbic portrayal by Michael Wallace. Because Borachio is a pompous ass, he has bragged about his successful ploy within earshot of the constable’s associates, and is promptly arrested.

Happy ending, Borachio brings the truth to light, everyone learns that Hero is really innocent, and Claudio, who now declares his love for his “dead” Hero, grieves for her. (IMHO Too little too late buddy.) Leonata tricks Claudio into marrying “Beatrice” who is really Hero hidden under a veil. If I were Hero, I would have walked away when I had the chance.

Directed with a simple set of platforms and a table and chairs, Farnsworth used every level and bit of space, and even had actors working on some weeding of the grounds.

Christopher C. Caricker as Benedick is natural and funny and at times a cross between Jerry Lewis and Jim Carey. He can also throw a grape in the air while walking and catch it in his mouth. He delivers a performance that is not to be missed.

I’ve already mentioned Michael Wallace, who appeared to be having the time of his life. David Cox is a fixture around these parts, and one of the steadiest actors around.

I can’t say enough about Carolyn Travis and Trey Hatch, who are the pillars of this theatre company.

This supporting cast of strong actors also includes James Brown, John Roberson, Cassandra Leon, Elizabeth Lundquist, and Claire Hardt Andrews who will make the evening fly.

I would be remiss if I neglected to make comment on the costuming. Director Farnsworth set the time period in the roaring 20s, and even a silent music party scene was a stunning sight to see. I’m a stickler for shoes and dresses, and the costuming team sold the authenticity of every last one of them.

Ok, so I’m not a fan of the story itself. Yeah, there are bugs and an occasional plane (there were six that I counted during the performance.) What’s important here is that you will enjoy stellar performances in one of the most beautiful acting spaces around.

The Rexville-Blackrock Amphitheatre is an old rock quarry and a stunning natural theater space. Look for Shakespeare Northwest at www.shakesnw.org. Picnics, lawn chairs and blankets are welcome but, sorry, no dogs.

Much Ado at the Rexville-Blackrock Amphitheatre
19299 Rexville Grange Road, Mt Vernon, WA
Regular tickets $12/$10 with student ID
July 12,18,24, 31 August 2,8,14,16 7:00pm
13 Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival – Much Ado @ 4pm Volunteer Park
July 20, August 10 2:00pm
26 IRON MAN – All three shows plus a commemorative t-shirt! $30
1:00 pm Much Ado,
4:00 pm To Be or Not TV2 (Touring Show)
7:00 pm Macbeth

Macbeth at Shakespeare Northwest

July 9th, 2014

By Teri Grimes

The Blackrock Amphitheatre serves as a perfect backdrop for Shakespeare’s haunting and bloody masterpiece, Macbeth, opening on July 10th this week. The Amphitheatre is an enormous curve of black sandstone set in a field next to the Rexville Grange. Starting its fifth season in this venue, Shakespeare Northwest will present the 14th annual Skagit River Shakespeare Festival in this outdoor space from July 10 through August 16, 2014. The festival will include Much Ado About Nothing and Macbeth.
Macbeth is directed with a sure hand by Trey Hatch, and the setting of the Amphitheatre sets us very squarely in the Scottish Highlands. The set is a simple arrangement of platforms and tents which is traditional for Shakespearean stages. And it works beautifully for this production. Natural lighting, and a simple drum and thunder sheet set the mood as the show commences. This production has been assembled with much care and detail. The costumes are an eclectic mix of Scottish kilts interspersed with an amalgam of suggestive pieces that blend into a nicely unified look. Period broad swords and knives add realism to the visceral fight scenes.
Our first glimpse in the production is of the creepy, prophecy-bearing witches, played with earthy nastiness by Beth Greatorex, Cassandra Leon and Carolyn Travis. The witches hail Macbeth as king, and Banquo as a father of kings to come. Banquo is played with understated vulnerability by James Brown, and he gives a nice counterpoint to that vulnerability when he returns as a blood-soaked ghost seeking vengeance.
We sense that the people of Scotland are immersed in constant civil wars. Michael Wallace plays a testy and aged King Duncan who is about to welcome Banquo and his great general, Macbeth, back from the plague of battle.
Bjorn A. Whitney gives us a Macbeth who is essentially most comfortable as a soldier. Though he is not without ambition or the urge to rule, he needs a catalyst to command him to act on his desires. Enter Lady Macbeth, the voice of unreasoning ambition. Whitney’s performance as Macbeth is spot on – tightly well-paced and focused, his performance is given with verve and energy. His diction is flawless, and his physicality solidly martial. Jaime Mastromonica gives a nicely layered performance as Lady M, although her innate sweetness tends to negate some of the necessary sexual overtones needed for the role. However, she really shines in her final sleepwalking scene when guilt overrides her passion, and leads to her ultimate demise.
The opposing heroic characters of Macbeth have an uphill battle competing with the wonderful badness of Macbeth and his lady. However, this cast is equal to the battle and never allow their characters to become stiff or boring. John Roberson as Malcolm the true heir, is especially good and makes us worry for the future of Scotland. Thomas Beirne as the noble Macduff has some very nice moments of internalized acting; Zoe Bronstein as Lady Macduff, and Scott Alan Andrews as the Earl of Northumberland give polished and intentional performances. I greatly enjoyed the performance of Raido McComas as the drunken porter who provides the only comic relief in this dark world.
Macbeth’s henchmen, nobles and servants round out a solid cast of characters that obviously know their stuff. As for those witches, they scurry and skulk about with the help of Hecate, played to creepy, zombiesque perfection by Glynna Goff, determined to cause havoc and enjoy the fruits of their mischief.
If you go, look for Shakespeare Northwest at www.shakesnw.org or on Facebook for dates, times, tickets and more information. Picnics, lawn chairs and blankets are welcome – and bring the bug spray!
Shakespeare Northwest, 2014 Skagit River Shakespeare Festival, shakesnw.org

Macbeth at the Rexville-Blackrock Amphitheatre
19299 Rexville Grange Road, Mt Vernon, WA
Regular tickets $12/$10 with student ID
Iron Man on 7/26 with 3 shows for $30
Macbeth plays July 10, 11, 17, 19, 25, 25 and
August 1, 7, 9, 15 at 7:00 p.m.
August 3 at 2:00 p.m.

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