Shakespeare isn’t necessarily an easy fit for community theatre. A regular on the calendars of educational and professional theatres (UND is mounting a production of Hamlet later this spring), the open access mission of community theatre does not always mesh easily with the high falutin’ language of the immortal Bard. Nicole Quam, director of the group “Shakespeare at the Fire Hall,” is hoping to bridge that gap, making some of the great works of English literature accessible for new and varied audiences.
Last summer, she staged a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that played out the back fire doors of the theatre into the parking lot – BYOLC (bring your own lawn chair). Now’s she back with a new cast and more seasonally appropriate material, presenting a staged reading of The Winter’s Tale. Focusing on the tragic love of Leontes (Sam O’Donnell) and his faithful queen Hermione (Jenny Morris); Leontes begins to believe that his wife has been unfaithful with visiting king of Bohemia, Polixenes (David Whitcomb), and has her jailed and the daughter she bears exiled. Borrowing from the tradition of Greek drama, representatives who have visited Apollo’s oracle bring the truth and set off a chain of events that stretches forward 16 years to the next generation of families on both Bohemia and Leontes’ native Sicilia.
The cast includes O’Donnell (who also plays the Old Sheppard in later Acts), Ruth Pederson (the saucy Paulina, Autolycus), Morris (who also plays Mopsa), Whitcomb, Gabe Figueroa (Antigonus, Florizel, Cleomenes), Brooke Pesch (Mamillius, Perdita), Nick Holte (Clown, Officer, Jailer), Emily Anderson (Dion, Emilia, Servants), Sally Morris (who plays Lords and a Mariner, as well as strumming a gorgeous harp), and Nicole Quam (Camillo, Dorcas, Rogero). Quam directed the show with Assistant Direction from Morris and technical assistance from Louie Babcock and C. J. Leigh.
One might expect that a staged reading would be less engaging than a full stage production, but the creative use of minimal costume elements help distinguish the multiple roles that actors play and catches the eye; the actors move about, entering and exiting, and the cast had such a solid grasp of the material they were performing that it was easy to ignore the scripts they were carrying and become engrossed in the show. Most showed a strong command of the Bard’s language and had sections committed to memory, with only cursory glances at the script if that. O’Donnell was brooding and irrational as the tyrannical Leontes, but was even more enjoyable in his character work as the Old Shepherd. Pederson was also a treat as the barb-tongued Paulina who is unafraid of facing down the raging king. Pesch and Figueroa are fetching as Perdita and Florizel, the lovers of the next generation, and played well against each other. While these performances were the standouts for me, the entire cast were rehearsed and engaging and did a great job of making Shakespeare accessible and entertaining for the assembled audience.
A Winter’s Tale plays on Sunday, February 21 at 2 pm. There are also baked goods for sale with a free will donation to raise money for future Shakespeare productions at the Fire Hall. Tickets are a steal at only $5, and promise a fine afternoon entertainment.
Tags: David Whitcomb, Fire Hall Theater, Fire Hall Theatre, Firehall Theater, Firehall Theatre, Greater Grand Forks Community Theater, Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre, Hamlet, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, Jenny Morris, Miss Jaye, Nicole Quam, Nikki Quam, Quam, Ruth Pederson, Sam O'Donnell, Shakespeare, The WInter's Tale, World of Champagne