Published February 21, 2013
Local colleges bring The Bard back to life with two very different playsMOLLY GILMORE
How trendy is Shakespeare these days?Nearly every local theater company has produced a Shakespeare play in the past year or so. Theres even a young and edgy company Animal Fire devoted just to William Shakespeare.And this weekend, two of Olympias three colleges are opening Shakespeare plays.Both productions Hamlet, in its opening weekend at South Puget Sound Community College, and The Winters Tale, this weekend only at The Evergreen State College are set in a sort of nebulous time out of time.And both directors have a great love for the bard.Freelance director and teacher James Van Leishout is helming the SPSCC drama departments Hamlet, one of Shakespeares most-produced works. Evergreen junior Allison Schneider is directing The Winters Tale, a rarely produced work from the end of Shakespeares career. Schneider revived the Evergreen Shakespeare Society, which is producing the show.The Winters Tale is dramatic and at times shocking. It is centered on Leontes, a monarch much different than the introspective Hamlet. Schneider said she has long been interested in the play; she acted in a production of it in high school.Its very real in terms of the interactions between the characters and the human emotions, she said, but its very fantastical in the feel of the play. Its a fairy tale, a folk tale.I love Shakespeare, she said. The words that Shakespeare writes are words that so perfectly describe human emotion. Its incredible. I feel like the human soul is expressed in Shakespeares words more than in any other words Ive read.Thats why were still doing Shakespeare 400-plus years after he was writing plays.Van Leishout also loves Shakespeare for his language, and Hamlet, he said, is such a strong example of that.Of all the plays, it is most about language, about how words can be used to reveal the truth or to obfuscate, said the director, who was the artistic director of the now-defunct Washington Shakespeare Festival. Hamlet is a scholar, so the words are more important. They become his weapons, as opposed to a sword.Even the set incorporates words. I saw a statue in Lincoln, Neb., which was huge pieces of steel with words cut out of them.We have faux-steel columns with words cut out of them. Weve pulled quotes from the play and they will be lit up at certain moments.Don Welch, who runs the SPSCC theater department, chose the play for this season because he really wanted to expose students to the bards work in part because so many local companies have been staging the works of Shakespeare. If students are going to go out and audition for these things, they need experience, he said.Last years As You Like It was the first Shakespeare play for SPSCCs 15-year-old drama program. Van Leishout directed that one, too; Welch personally prefers to stick to more contemporary playwrights.Im no good at Shakespeare, he said, chuckling. I have an expertise in doing modern American drama.