Shakespeare in the Woods opens for a three-week run

In this forest, our heroine Rosalind challenges society’s rules. Shaking them off, this whip-smart woman makes a rule set of her own, all while frolicking in the deep green.

So begins Shakespeare’s pastoral “As You Like It,” a play that has explored the mysteries of love for some 400 years now. The tale of a woman who crosses all manner of borders — while teaching her companions how to live and love — arrives in Port Angeles’ forest and meadow this weekend. Shakespeare in the Woods, the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center’s summer foray into outdoor theater, is back for a three-weekend run, with performances Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Aug. 5.

“As You Like It,” with a cast ranging from teenagers to seasoned actors from Sequim and Port Angeles, is about to unfold in the Webster’s Woods art park beside the center, with the meadow as performance space.

As ever, admission is free.

Also as always, Shakespeare in the Woods artistic director Anna Andersen will start the evening with a quick guide to full Shakespeare enjoyment, aka the pre-show, at 6 p.m.

“It’s a little bit different this time,” she said, “a little more quirky with a lot more audience participation,” plus prizes for those who can answer some lighthearted quiz questions.

“It’s going to be a tongue-in-cheek romp through some Shakespeare trivia and the plot of ‘As You Like It,’” said Andersen, adding that some of the community’s most skillful performers will appear.

Theater artists across Clallam County, be they retired professionals, high school students or working people with energy to spare, have been bringing Shakespeare to life here for four years now. Soon after moving here in 2014, Andersen visited Webster’s Woods, and her thoughts turned immediately to the bard’s tales. She staged “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 2015, “The Tempest” in 2016 and “Much Ado about Nothing” last summer. “As You Like It,” set by the bard in the lush Forest of Arden, fits right in.

Seventeen-year-old Madelynne Jones of Port Angeles, already a Shakespeare in the Woods veteran, this year has the role of Rosalind. Sequim’s Tom Challinor, a Shakespeare scholar who appeared in Key City Public Theatre’s “Henry IV, Part 1” in Port Townsend last summer, plays the philosopher Jaques in “As You Like It.” Port Angeles actor and director Josh Sutcliffe portrays Touchstone, the court jester who accompanies Rosalind and company, while Ryan Chen, another Port Angeles teen, is the brave and tender Orlando.

Benjamin Komar and Jonas Brown play the good duke and the bad duke; Brad Alemao is Oliver, Orlando’s loveless brother; Sage Hunter is Celia, Rosalind’s beloved cousin. Andersen plays Audrey, the goatherd who agrees to wed Touchstone even if she doesn’t understand half of what he’s saying. Together they pour themselves into the show, loaded as it is with Shakespearean sauciness and grace. There’s Jaques’ “All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players” speech, Touchstone’s “We that are true lovers run into strange capers” remark, and near the conclusion Orlando, ever chivalrous, promising to love his sweetheart “forever and a day.”

Since the show is free — donations are welcome, of course — audience members can return as often as they like, and perhaps catch something new each time, said Jessica Elliott, executive director of the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center. She noted that the audience grew from 300 in 2015 to more than 1,000 last summer; this year she hopes to top 1,200.

Director Cheryl Koenig is shepherding her cast with help from stage manager Tavin Dotson, hair and makeup artist Jennifer Horton and costume designer Richard Stephens. The show has music, too: a recorded soundtrack with live accompaniment on selected songs. Musicians include Chen on guitar, violist Luke Gavin who also plays the First Lord and the Second Lord, and violinist Marissa Wilson, who portrays Lord Amiens.

Horton, the Sequim thespian who produced the pre-show for last summer’s “Much Ado,” is happy to be back in Webster’s Woods, and happy to see many of 2017’s performers have returned with her.

“There is something magical about this space,” she said. “With Shakespeare enthusiasts in it, the meadow blooms.”

For Koenig, a choreographer and actress who portrayed Rosalind in Western Washington University’s summer 1981 production, “As You Like It” is pure delight. “The show has the goods, she said: multiple romances, mistaken identities and villains who transform. And in the end, It has joy.”

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