The passion and fashion of Shakespeare: Port Angeles Fine Arts Center hosts free Shakespeare in the Woods production

Titania’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” cloak, lush and leafy, awaits. So do the costumes of Lady Capulet — Romeo’s mother-in-law — plus portly Sir John Falstaff.

The Port Angeles Fine Arts Center has made room for these and a dozen more characters in “Clothes Oft Proclaim the Man: Fashion and Passion in the Time of Shakespeare,” opening Saturday, July 15.

Admission is free and the show stays on display through Aug. 6; the public is invited to a debut party with wine, soft drinks and snacks at 5 p.m. that Saturday.

It’s all part of this summer’s Shakespeare in the Woods production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” opening July 21 in the Webster’s Woods park at the fine arts center, 1203 E. Lauridsen Blvd.

The comic play features 22 performers from Port Angeles, Sequim and environs.

The “proclaim the man” line comes from “Hamlet,” but it doesn’t cover everything. Curator and costumer Richard Stephens is highlighting Shakespeare’s females in this show.

“The guys get plenty of coverage. Let’s celebrate the women,” said Stephens, who creates the costumes for Shakespeare in the Woods.

So along with some famous men the audience will meet Portia, Brutus’ wife in “Julius Caesar;” Desdemona, Othello’s Venetian beauty; and Beatrice, leading lady in “Much Ado.” The exhibit showcases Elizabethan, Italian, Tudor and Florentine costumes Stephens has gathered from theater companies around the Pacific Northwest.

During Saturday’s party, Stephens will give a talk on why Shakespeare matters more than 400 years after his plays premiered. That discussion will be at 5:30 p.m.; then the “Much Ado” cast will perform a few scenes in the courtyard. The party will carry on until 8 p.m.

During the exhibit’s run, the fine arts center gallery will be open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays.

The show is a revelation, said fine arts center executive director Jessica Elliott, of how various theater groups stage Shakespeare’s plays in Elizabethan times, or a few decades ago, or even modern times.

Stephens, for his part, is finding inspiration in one modern rendition of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” In New York City’s Central Park, the title character bears a distinct resemblance to President Donald Trump.

“I’m reading about it with glee and satisfaction,” he said of the June production.

“It’s caused this big brouhaha, showing that Shakespeare still has the power to provoke. These plays still are relevant. They pulsate. We see ourselves in them.”

At the same time, Stephens says, the Bard’s comedies rock with romance. “Much Ado About Nothing,” which the Shakespeare in the Woods crew is setting in the 1950s, features Beatrice and Benedick, portrayed by local actors Josh Sutcliffe and Sharah Truett.

To his eye this pair, entangled in a web of gossip and fanciful language, is at least as romantic than Romeo and Juliet — not tragic at all.

Stephens’ costume exhibit also displays posters and playbills from other Shakespeare productions, to reflect the variety out there.

Elliott finds these variations delicious. And while Shakespeare’s sharp, poetic, 16th-century dialogue is as he wrote it in “Much Ado,” the mid-20th century setting freshens it up.

“We honor the roots of the language,” she said, “but use costume and fashion to reinterpret a timeless story.”

The fine arts center’s Shakespeare in the Woods productions share costumes, props and performers with the Port Angeles Community Players and Olympic Theatre Arts in Sequim, Elliott noted. This is the third summer of Shakespeare here, following “The Tempest” last year and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 2015.

From the start, she added, the local groups have shown a spirit of collaboration and support for the center’s picnic-style theater.

“That’s how the arts are going to survive,” said Stephens.

“Much Ado About Nothing” has a pre-show featuring a lighthearted introduction to Shakespearean language and the play’s themes, said Elliott. That starts at 6 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, July 21-Aug. 6. The play itself begins at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free, while donations are accepted.

Elliott continues to seek sponsors to help foot bills for the production, as “we want to keep offering free theater to our community.”

For information about the costume exhibit, Shakespeare in the Woods and the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, see or call 457-3532.

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