Monday, November 4, 2013

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare…Abridged—OCT’s Young Professionals Company—NE Portland

"The Play’s the Thing…”

This three-man show is written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield and directed by Andrés Alcalá.  It plays at Oregon Children’s Theatre’s school at 1939 NE Sandy Blvd. through November 10th.  For more information go to their site at www.octc.org or call 503-228-9571.

This is an oft-done piece (this is the third time I’ve seen it in the past several months) and, for the life of me, I don’t know why it’s done.  Not because it’s not a good script, it is, but because so difficult to do.  It’s a relatively simple show on the production-side but, consider that most of his plays are presented here in rapid-fire format, for the most part, and most of it done in Shakespearean speech and highly abridged, at that.

And, to add to this, it is done by three 15-year-old young men!  This material is difficult for even the most seasoned adult performer.  But, to be honest, they do remarkably well.  But, as my friend who was with me, asked, “How do they keep it all straight in their heads and remember all those lines?”  Believe me, I’ve been involved in about 200+ plays over the years and I still don’t know the answer to that.  They just do, that’s all.

Michael Cline, Tristan Comella and Evan Shely are the performers and they easily match their adult counterparts who have enacted these roles.  They all play multiple roles and some the Bard’s plays/sonnets are only mentioned as titles.  But others, like Romeo and Juliet, Mac…er, the Scottish Play and Hamlet (which encompasses the entire 2nd half of the show) are done in more complete detail.  And there is audience participation, in which I took part, playing (I believe), Ophelia’s ego…you had to be there.

And to make the language more playable for a modern audience, they do Titus… as a cooking show, the Histories as a football match, Othello in Rap fashion, and the Comedies, as if on The Love Boat.  Puppets, videos, music and a dummy are used well for comic effect, too.  They even do a 90 second version of Hamlet…and then do it backward!  Again, a remarkable feat for anyone, and absolutely amazing that it is accomplished by teens. 

Personally, I’ve always enjoyed teaching/directing young people, as they have a sense of daring and braveness in approaching Arts that adults seem to lose, as they age.  Whatever insights and advice that Alcalá has imparted to them, is right on the mark in presenting this show. 

And all three actors are more that up to the task of playing the multiple roles.  Cline, the nerdy one of the team, tackles the narrative parts well and plays Hamlet as a confused teenager (as it should be).  Shely, the scholarly one of the group, does well in trying to keep the troupe on course.  And Comella, as the reluctant member, is a scream in the various female roles and does a nice turn in a serious rendition of “What a Piece of Work is Man…”  from Hamlet.  A nice touch.  An observation, though, the actors should have held for a moment after this speech, to let the actor get some well-deserved applause, which had begun.

This all should be pointing to something obvious.  Young people need the Arts to become whole as adults.  It builds confidence and teamwork and gives the person a safe haven to explore their inner selves.  The public education system seems to ignore this fact.  But OCT, and other schools like them, are fully vested in accomplishing this important goal.  You could do no better in getting your young ones into one of their classes! 

Dani Baldwin, OCT’s Education Director, and her team are exceptional, and you owe it to your children’s future to allow them to be the best that they can be.  Contact her at
dani@octc.org or call 503-228-9571 x106, or go to their website for more information on classes and their future season.

I recommend this show.  If you do go, or contact Dani about classes, tell them Dennis sent you.