Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Winner takes all

Shakespeare NW puts Nevadan spin on Bard’s tale

By Lily Olason

Walk through a grotto of maple trees and find yourself in a cozy organic nook. This is the Rexville Blackrock Ampitheater, named aptly for the mammoth, earthly wonder of a rock face that serves as backdrop for actors belting everything from retro group harmonies to more classically Shakespearean soliloquies.

The SNW crew usually ruffles the (formerly) European feathers of Bard’s most classic work. This time, director Mike Wallace relocates Venice to the Nevada desert and makes it The Merchant of Vegas.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

Skagit theater veteran Carolyn Travis Hatch plays Antonia with sparkle and a flooring talent. Her timing is exquisite and humor exceedingly well played. Her big, jailbird solo on “This Town” is sultry-hammy and shows off her theatrical chops: twenty minutes later she’s on the floor, face-to-face with certain death and begging them to get it over with. We are engrossed.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

Glen Nelson Bristow plays the perfect Shylock—his delivery is crisp yet ever-so mobster, and he aces big speeches with ease (namely, “hath not a Jew eyes?”). His scenes with Hatch are a joy to watch, and the courtroom showdown in front of the Duke (Trey Hatch) is nail-bitingly good.

John Metcalf plays Bassiano with a slick charm and sensitivity, and his work with both Hatch and Lydia Randall as love-interest Portia is as versatile as it is good. He can belt it in song, too, clad in a Bobby Darin suit.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

Lydia Randall plays Portia with the just-right air of regal refinement and take-charge agency. She orchestrates, at the behest of her father’s will, a The Price Is Right-esque hand-winning contest to hopefully score the betrothal of Bassiano, and not that of the stuffy princes of Aragon and Morocco. However, Devon Breur plays both with schmaltz and hilarity.

Her handmaid/BFF Nerissa is played by Jessie Spengler with a fierce dramatic talent, sass, and formidable girl-power. She also takes the cake in the theatric eye-roll department. Randall and Spengler dress up as men to save Antonia from her mortal fate, and their interactions with their oblivious husbands is complete comedy and so well done.

Sam Schlobohm is the perfect choice for Gratiano, the take-the-bull-by-the-horns friend of Bassiano and husband of Nerissa. He plays with showmanship and whimsy.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

When starry-eyed Jessica (Tess Nakaishi) forsakes her father (and her Jewish faith) for fast-talking Lorenzo (Danny Herter), she runs off with a casket of ducats and her dad’s dignity. Nakaishi is a great choice for the role and her work with Herter, especially in the second act, is explosive drama. Lorenzo is the scheming guy you’d expect to steal a gal away. Between wooing Jessica and singing tunes, Herter plays the role with energy and wit.
Bassanio’s buddy Salerio is played by John Roberson. In between supporting Bassanio’s pursuits, he can sing, too. Dale Asplund plays Gaoler and Bathazar and does the most comical slow walking I’ve seen. James Brown expertly plays Launcelot Gobbo, who’s stuck in a theosophical quandary between the merits of the person versus their religion. He wears a patched elbow tweed jacket and snacks on candy incessantly. One of several nice touches by the SNW crew.

The Merchant of Vegas is a true Shakespearean show. Mentions of Lake Tahoe and Sin City whiz by while you’re lulled by the magnificent talents up on stage.

The Rexville Blackrock Ampitheater is a slight (but worthy) drive, so be sure and bring along a map or digital device to point you in the right direction. It’s BYO seating, so consider a lawn chair or blanket of sorts. I also recommend bug spray.  The festival runs through August 13th, and you can find tickets and other info on the SNW website.

If you’re lucky, they might even let you play craps.

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