In love with Shakespeare

There’s nothing more satisfying than a good insider joke, especially when you’re an insider.

There’s nothing more satisfying than a good insider joke, especially when you’re an insider.

The works of William Shakespeare are very similar, holding great appeal for those familiar with their language and plot contrivances, but sometimes going right over the head of anyone else. Certain works, such as Baz Lurhmann’s film Romeo and Juliet, have made some of his works more accessible, but to purists, nothing beats the convoluted storylines of the original.

Lovers of The Bard are likely to be very pleased with Portland Center Stage’s most recent production. They are putting on both the Shakespeare classic Twelfth Night and a newer work on Shakespearean authorship, called The Beard of Avon, at the same time. The same actors, set and many of the same costumes and props are used in both plays. The presentation of Twelfth Night is very straightforward and The Beard of Avon is big on insider jokes for Shakespeare fans, especially those familiar with the debate over who actually wrote the plays of William Shakespeare.

For those unfamiliar with the controversy, it claims that William Shakespeare was the pen name of a very modestly talented actor who is attributed with over two dozen plays and hundreds of poems. Many people think the pen name was used by nobility, mostly by Edward de Vere, to get their work out to the public. (At the time, plays were considered a low form of art, not fit for nobility to be involved with.) Some even say Queen Elizabeth might have written one of them. There is much controversy among experts and enthusiasts of issue over the author or authors of the plays.

The Beard of Avon manages to combine nearly all the theories about who wrote the plays of Shakespeare into a coherent and entertaining plotline rife with Shakespeare jokes. Many famous quotations from Shakespeare’s work are reused in totally different and more hilarious ways than in their original works. Along the way, we are treated to violence, debauchery, dense prose and all the other things one would expect from a Shakespeare work.

While too complex to summarize easily, the plot of Twelfth Night involves cross-dressing, love triangles, shipwrecks of multiple kinds and generally bawd (sexual) comedy. Its multiple convoluted plotlines are all resolved in the end with a double wedding, which is a common ending in Shakespeare. Both plays include many jokes that will be appreciated by anyone who has ever been involved in theater.

The cast does a great job pulling double duty. Most of the leads in one play take smaller roles in the other, making a seemingly impossible task attainable. Darius Pierce is endearingly humorous as both Shakespeare and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Brent Harris commands the stage like in penultimate Shakespearean acting, as both De Vere and Orsino. Many actors play more than one role in each play, putting their grand total of roles at as many as half a dozen. They all do a great job.

Theater is a very collaborative medium. A play is not the work of one person or even an entire cast, but often of dozens of different individuals. The conclusion of the controversy over who wrote the works of Shakespeare in Beard of Avon takes this into account in a very satisfying fashion. Whether true in the rest of life or not, in the theater it truly takes a village to make a great play.

Twelfth Night and The Beard of Avon Weekends until March 9Tickets starting at $20 for studentsGerding Theater (Old Armory)128 N.W. 11th Ave.For show times and tickets see