The outdoor-theater season in local parks is under way. Here are some short takes on three of the many free Shakespeare (and other) productions you can catch at open-air venues in the area:
GreenStage’s production of “Othello” puts the company in rarefied territory as one of the few to have produced Shakespeare’s complete canon of plays.
Fortunately, this “Othello” isn’t just a final box to be checked off, but an invigorating, exciting take on the revenge drama, directed by Teresa Thuman, whose dynamic staging eschewed the Volunteer Park amphitheater stage entirely to bring the action even closer to a dispersed audience.
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Nearly all of the central performances strike a nice balance between open-air boisterousness and studied nuance. Martyn G. Krouse’s Iago is a coolheaded manipulator, offhand in his cruelty, while Johnny Patchamatla’s Othello is his diametrical opposite, a big-hearted, emotional lover whose belief in the infidelity of his wife, Desdemona (a fierce, defiant Libby Barnard), drives him increasingly madder and more physically erratic.
Varying forms of madness seem to be contagious in this “Othello.” Laurie Nelson’s Roderigo degenerates into a moaning, pathetic sap over his desire for Desdemona while Michael Ramquist’s Brabantio goes apoplectic over his daughter’s marriage to a Moor.
Ramquist’s rage is so engrossing, one wishes the Bard had done a rewrite that gave us just a little more Brabantio in the second act.
Through Aug. 16 in local parks (GreenStage.org).
— Dusty Somers, Special to The Seattle Times
“Around the World in 8 Stories” (Teatro Minestrone)
Madcap, clever, charming! The antics of the young, enthusiastic troupe Teatro Minestrone (part of 14/48 Productions) will captivate both adults and children.
Since performing “Pinocchio” in Seattle last summer, they have toured the world, gathering folk tales along the way. The eight tales presented here include ingenious effects, and many of them are sly, with very funny references to American popular culture.
You’ll be amazed to see how tall and strong Paul Bunyan becomes. And when his father calls for his mother, Stella, it’s a very funny Marlon Brando moment.
Peasants in bitter Russia are caught in a snowstorm that’s imaginatively created. In the Indian tale of a tiger, a Brahmin and a jackal, the tiger’s cage exemplifies the ensemble’s creative stagecraft, and the moral of the tale is worth remembering.
The troupe even manages to intermingle the Pied Piper of Hamlin with Greek goddesses. And who is that man in the audience who keeps interrupting the show?
Director K. Brian Neel, playwright Brendan Healy, and the adroit cast deserve kudos for this family-friendly show.
Through Aug. 3 at local parks (the1448projects.org).
— Nancy Worssam, Special to The Seattle Times
“Much Ado About Nothing” (Last Leaf Productions)
Though they’re ostensibly the secondary couple in Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” Beatrice and Benedick are at the play’s center as they transform from snippy rivals to lovers.
That reluctant metamorphosis, complete with myriad deceptions and mistaken identities, is given pretty short shrift in Last Leaf Productions’ staging, a condensed hourlong affair that plays like the greatest-hits version of one of the Bard’s most beloved comedies.
Laura Kessler’s direction can be frustratingly shapeless, trotting out a collection of scenes in succession that have little differentiation from each other. Outdoor spaces aren’t always easy to inhabit, but this production often feels more like a costumed reading than a full-fledged play.
Still, Jay Rairigh as Benedick and Gail Wamba as Beatrice are likable presences whose physical-comedy chops enliven the proceedings. Wamba clowns expertly as she sarcastically remarks on her need to “cry heigh-ho for a husband.” And Rairigh perfectly exemplifies the play’s proto-screwball qualities as he anxiously carries around a potted plant to hide behind while eavesdropping on Don Pedro and his men, the would-be Cupids who drive the plot.
Through July 27 at parks in various locales (lastleaf99.org).
— Dusty Somers, Special to The Seattle Times