theatre al fresco, fenix-style

totally unrelated to my writing, but i just had to say something about a wonderful time my wife and i had, along with about 350 other people, attending an outdoor production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, presented by Fenix Theatre Company, a local troupe bringing free outdoor classics to the Greater Portland area (even reaching Damariscotta next week, i believe), on display in Deering Oaks in Portland.

this was our first experience with this troupe, but after last night, it will certainly not be the last.

the weather was perfect, the crowd was happy and laughing, and the play is simply a lot of fun, with a small set of primary actors playing various roles with skill, verve, and a whole lot of indomitable energy. it’s one thing to see a wonderful performance in a traditional theatre environment (and i’ve had many of these, including a recent show of the musical Guys & Dolls, which was lovely!), but it’s entirely another to see it done with only the landscape for a set, accompanied by flights of birds, kids splashing in the wading pool nearby, and the occasional passing siren for effect.

one would easily imagine all this to be distracting, but the actors never missed a beat, and i hardly noticed it. seriously. we didn’t bring chairs, so we sat on a blanket near at the top of one of the banks. Everybody else brought chairs, though, so we couldn’t see anything, but i’ll admit i wasn’t expecting terribly much, so i wasn’t overly bothered.

until about 5 minutes into it, when we started standing because the performance was so good.

we spent the rest of the hour and a half performance standing and i didn’t care. the minimalist style leant itself to focusing on the words and the faces and the actions of the actors, who pulled wonderful depth from all those great lines, both the ones often used, and many others (i’m thinking now of a bawdy but delightful – and extremely brief – scene during the final play within a play in reference to the ‘stones’ of the man playing ‘Wall’).

all the actors did a great job, from the delightfully over-the-top Bottom (ha!) to the sprightly Puck and the mixed-up lovers (who had a surprisingly realistic and involved ‘fight scene’ when things are coming to a head between them – i had wondered when i looked at the program that there were two fight choreographers, but it really served them well, here!), to the various supporting faeries.

we laughed out loud regularly, along with the rest of the large crowd, and even felt the pull of dismay and despair in the foiled lovers’ troubles. i wasn’t as partial to the musical elements, but my wife enjoyed them, and it really was an excellent production, all the way around. if you’re anywhere near Portland this evening at 6, head to the Oaks; you won’t be disappointed.

  1. indeed it is, and indeed we did. it was a delightful reminder of how much we enjoy and benefit from live theater. it’s also one of the reasons we miss being “in town”, but we’re glad we can at least get to some of them from time to time. and i forgot to mention that, because of the small cast size, a handful of genders got switched, including Bottom, who was played by a woman, and it all worked exceptionally well. this, in turn, reminded me yet again of the craft behind every one of Shakespeare’s lines. something to aspire to.

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