Reviews of two of the outdoor Shakespeare plays making the rounds of area parks this summer: Wooden O’s “Hamlet,” starring Conner Neddersen, and GreenStage’s “Pericles,” edited to an hour and performed with a handful of versatile actors.
Playing the soul-searching, mercurial prince of Denmark in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is for any actor a sterling opportunity, and a formidable challenge.
The rising Seattle performer Conner Neddersen is currently tackling the role that has intimidated and enticed thespians for 500 years. And in Wooden O’s new open-air touring production of “Hamlet,” he faces special advantages and disadvantages.
The upside for Neddersen? Shakespeare’s longest play (which can run nearly five hours, uncut) has been compressed into a brisk two hours by director George Mount, for free consumption at parks around the region.
Backyard Bard runs of “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” (and the comedy “Twelfth Night,” and longer Greenstage versions of “Cymbeline” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor”) play with free admission through Aug. 13 at area parks (206-748-1551 or greenstage.org).
“Hamlet” (and “Love’s Labour’s Lost”) run with free admission through Aug. 7 at local parks (206-733-8222 or seattleshakespeare.org).
The downside? During a recent performance at the Seattle Outdoor Theatre Festival in Volunteer Park, Neddersen had to deliver Hamlet’s brooding “To be or not to be” speech and other classic monologues above the roar of airplanes, and under dark clouds threatening rain — amid other distractions for an actor trying to convey nuanced emotions in the great outdoors.
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But the wiry Neddersen remains intelligently alert and committed to his role. He’s an articulate young Shakespeare veteran who conveys Hamlet’s intelligence and ambivalence through the power of the verse without resorting to shouting and mugging. He’s in demand and blossoming onstage, most recently in a powerful turn as an American soldier accused of war crimes in Strawberry Theatre Workshop’s “9 Circles.” So Neddersen deserves this shot and a future whack at the role in a less condensed (indoor) “Hamlet” too.
Another standout in the Wooden O mounting, David Quicksall, masters the elements as an eloquently idiotic Polonius. And Meme Garcia is an offbeat, adolescent Ophelia whose vulnerability believably presages her madness.
Wooden O offers a swiftly absorbing intro to the play, with a few glitches. Some intimate downstage moments were hard to see and hear for much of the Volunteer Park audience. And the scarlet, skintight micro-mini worn by Queen Gertrude (Amy Fleetwood) is mesmerizing in a when-weird-costumes-happen-to-good-actors kind of way. (The outfit makes Gertie seem less like a monarch trying to recapture her youth than a Vegas hooker on the prowl.)
“Pericles, Prince of Tyre” (GreenStage)
If “Hamlet” and Wooden O’s other summer offering, “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” cut to the chase, they’re leisurely compared to GreenStage’s Backyard Bard outdoor shows.
This summer series was designed by Seattle’s longest-running outdoor Shakespeare troupe to tuck into a small space, and travel light with a rack of costumes and a batch of rustic props. The texts are cut down to an hour. And like strolling players of yore, the cast of four portrays a couple dozen or more characters and doubles as stagehands.
“Pericles, Prince of Tyre” is well-served under such conditions. One of the shorter plays that the Bard of Avon co-wrote (or didn’t write at all, according to some scholars), it’s your basic formulaic romance, following the adventures and misadventures of an ancient Greek noble who loses his wife and daughter before a heart-tugging happy ending. It’s a fable that merits a less-than-reverent treatment, which director Ken Holmes provides.
You really don’t miss getting the whole play here: “Pericles” is no “Hamlet,” to say the least. Much of the fun derives from the brio of GreenStage’s small ensemble, as they duck behind a small backdrop to switch costumes and identities, haul out a piece of cardboard scenery, or add a bit of music to the mix. There are also some winning audience participation gambits, like a duel with Styrofoam swords that requires volunteers.
While “Pericles” is evoked in broad strokes, the actors are allowed moments of grief, ardor and other deep emotions. Tyler Dobies (as a dashing prince, and a growling villain) and winning Jennifer Crooks (as two beloved wives) display the necessary seriocomic finesse. And Gavin Sakae McLean and Laura Lee Caudill add to the zest, in supporting roles.