Play on, Shakes Beer fest

Original Practice Shakespeare returns to Clark County with bard’s comedies

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter

Published:

 

If You Go

• What: Shakes Beer and Wine Festival, featuring "The Comedy of Errors" on Saturday; "Twelfth Night" on Sunday. Plus live music Saturday after the play.

• When: 2 p.m. Aug. 26-27

• Cost: Free. Beer and wine for purchase.

• Where: Say Ciao! Taproom and Eatery, 2501 S.E. Columbia Way, Vancouver.

• Information: say-ciao.com or www.opsfest.org

If the name William Shakespeare fills you with fear of flowery language, impenetrable history and deeper-than-you meaning, relax and have a beer.

The free comedies presented at this weekend’s Shakes Beer and Wine Festival outside Say Ciao! — a catering company and taproom near the Vancouver waterfront — are a couple of the bard’s shortest, silliest works.

How silly? In Saturday’s “The Comedy of Errors,” two sets of identical twins are separated at birth, and their four-way reunion bursts with comedic puzzles, slapstick humor and bawdy wordplay — like this comparison of foolish talk and flatulence: “A man may break a word with you, sir, and words are but wind; Ay, and break it in your face, so he break it not behind.”

“The Comedy of Errors,” one of Shakespeare’s earliest works (1594), is considered a cream puff of a play — sweet, well-made and utterly without import. Sunday’s comedy, “Twelfth Night” (1602), is equally goofy but seen as the work of a more mature thinker as it probes gender bending and questions of conformity. Another set of separated twins drives this plot, including a woman who accidentally wins the love of another woman while disguised as a man; there’s also lots of singing, dancing and partying in “Twelfth Night,” which opens with the words “If music be the food of love, play on!”

Presenting these comedies is the Original Practice Shakespeare Festival, a professional company with members in both Portland and Vancouver. The name comes from the historically authentic way the group performs Shakespeare, according to founder and artistic director Brian Allard: on the fly, without rehearsal, discovering the story right along with the audience.

Back in Shakespeare’s day, he said, “they didn’t rehearse anything like we do in the modern era. They didn’t have time.”

Theater was entertainment for the masses in Shakespeare’s London, with fierce competition between venues and shows changing daily, he said. Busy actors carried scrolls containing their own cues and lines, but nobody (except an offstage prompter) had the whole script. That’s partially because there were no copy machines, but mostly because there were no copyright laws. A stolen work by a popular playwright such as Shakespeare would be a hot property indeed.

Original Practice Shakespeare’s performances feel fresh, spontaneous and real. Audiences are encouraged to pump up the excitement with cheers and boos.

“I love the way it allows us to connect with the audience. I feel like we create something with the audience, not just for them,” Allard said. “It’s not improvisation, because we are performing Shakespeare’s words, but there is a strong improv element.”

Allard said he studied this offbeat technique at the New England Shakespeare Festival, then found an unexpected home for it in the Portland area, where Original Practice Shakespeare has been going surprisingly strong since 2009.

“Some things take on a life of their own,” he laughed. “Portland likes all things weird. It’s a good fit here.”

Say what?

Original Practice Shakespeare has performed annually for the past few summers in Esther Short Park — including a few weeks ago — but Allard said that venue is tough for live theater. The park is heavily programmed, expensive to reserve and dominated by roaring airplanes and rumbling trains.

That’s why Allard was glad to team up with Say Ciao! and try a new location.

Say Ciao! is a small restaurant and tap room at 2501 S.E. Columbia Way (east of Beaches and McMenamins); these performances will be outside in a parking lot, with tables and seating for about 60, according to owner and executive chef Peter Gallin; it would be wise to show up early or bring blankets and lawn chairs.

Gallin said the Say Ciao! kitchen will offer a simple menu; numerous local beers and ciders will sell for $4 a pint; Idiot’s Grace Winery of Mosier, Ore., will sell wine on Saturday and Basil Cellars of Vancouver will sell wine Sunday.

And on Saturday, after the play, stick around for live music: acoustic duo the Sun City Players play at 4:30 p.m., followed by the Slim Jims, a rockabilly band, at 6:30 p.m.