Friday, July 16, 2021

The Return of the Bard (well, sort of…)

Photo shows Jacquelle Davis and Sammy Rat Rios
Photography courtesy of 
Casey Campbell Photography

 By Tina Arth

Bag&Baggage is back! In partnership with Hillsboro Parks & Recreation, B&B is offering a truly hilarious version of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [Revised] – an evening of genuine absurdity to welcome audiences back to the world of live theater – and it’s free! Under the direction of B&B Artistic Director Cassie Greer, three of 2021’s hardest working actors celebrate the apparent retreat of Covid-19 with unmatched, uninhibited enthusiasm that leaves the audience no choice but to have a good time. All of the performances are being held outdoors, with appropriate social distancing encouraged. Given the moderate weather we’re expecting in upcoming weeks, there’s simply no excuse to miss this show.

Speaking of excuses, “I (hate/don’t understand/am bored by) Shakespeare” is irrelevant.  It’s impossible to give a brief synopsis – original authors Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield managed to condense all 37 Shakespeare plays (and a brief, if startlingly inaccurate, biography) into just under 100 minutes. Despite the show’s frantic pace, the combination of wit, good cheer, audience participation and broad physical comedy leaves nobody in the dark. While a couple of the most performed plays (Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet) are given a fair amount of stage time, most are dealt with in a veritable lightning round of allusions (a personal favorite, in the segment on comedies, is the synthesis of Twelfth Night’s Violet and Olivia into Violivia). For Hamlet we are quickly introduced to most of the cast, but the majority of the time is spent on a rousing exploration of Ophelia’s id, ego, and superego that must have Freud turning over in his grave; cajoling the audience into gleefully representing each aspect of her psychic apparatus is the frosting on the cake. An added bonus (for me at least) is the play within a play – I can’t resist sock puppets, and the more primitive the better!

The magic that makes all of this possible is three irresistible actors (Jacquelle Davis, Sammy Rat Rios, and Janelle Rae) and one overtly involved stage manager/sound guy, Ephriam Harnsberger. Well before the starting time, Davis is working the audience with persistent and infectious energy that nicely primes us for later participation (and no, nobody is pressured to come out of their comfort zone). Once the show starts, all three actors mine a clothing rack/curtain for the variety of costumes, roles, and wigs they need to assume countless roles, and Rae gets incredible mileage out of one tattered blonde wig.  Outdoor settings come complete with unavoidable ambient noise, but Harnsberger and the actors make sure nothing is missed.

Almost as much fun as watching the show was observing the reactions of my fellow audience members – people who clearly had no idea what to expect were laughing heartily, and perhaps the best line of the night went to an audience volunteer (Ben, as I recall) who described his pronouns as “he” and “you.”

My only complaint is something that may be out of the control of even the most skilled director, lighting coordinator, or stage manager – the sun showed an annoying tendency to shine in my eyes as it descended behind the stage from about 7:30 – 8:00. Anticipating this, I had brought a hat and sunglasses, both of which were used to good effect. In addition to these accessories, bring a chair or blanket, and maybe a bottle of water or some other legal beverage to whet your whistle between chuckles.

Bag&Baggage’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare is playing through Sunday, June 25, with performances at Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza July 17 - 18 and Hidden Creek Community Center July 22 – 23 – 24 – 25. All performances begin at 7:30 pm. While the show is free, reservations are required and can be made on the Bag&Baggage website.

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