COUPLING Astrea Campbell-Cobb (left) and Rob Cameron (right).
To the strains of Bon Jovi’s awesome, vintage heartbreak, you approach the reflecting pool, hunker down on the ground, and pull out that take-out burger and Coke. You’re about to witness some giddy, sugar-high high-jinx between popular heart-throb assholes, frustrated dorks, back-stabbed best friends, punky firebrand chicks, and pretty rich girls in pink. No, it’s not a rooftop movie double-feature of Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, but it’s not that far off.
|Two Gentlemen of Verona|
By William Shakespeare. Directed by Bryant Mason. Produced by the Fenix Theater Company, in Deering Oaks Park. August 7, 8, and 9 at 7 pm and on August 10 at 2 pm
The young people Shakespeare described frequently act just as juvenile as Reagan-era movie teens, after all, and in the first production of the new Fenix Theater Company, co-founders Rob Cameron and Bryant Mason have decided to channel John Hughes. Fenix’s Two Gentlemen of Verona
, directed by Mason in Portland’s Deering Oaks Park, brings together a fun and unexpected mix of actors from several area companies. The show is free (though donations are appreciated), and it fills this summer’s void of outdoor theater with a light and gleeful touch.
Of the title’s two gentlemen, one is less than noble. As his name suggests, Proteus (played by Craig Michael Bowden, of Mad Horse Theatre Company) does indeed give love a bad and inconstant name. At first, he swears devotion to the peppy, hot-pink-legginged Julia (Sally Wood, who’s acted with Portland Stage and the Theater at Monmouth). But all bets are off when he gets a look at what his best friend Valentine (Cameron, who most recently performed with the Originals over in Bar Mills) is after.
Sylvia (Astrea Campbell-Cobb) is loaded, lovely, and loftily coiffed with Aqua Net and a scrunchie. But her dad the Duke (David Butler, company member of AIRE) has his own plans for her, namely the rich but lame-o Thurio (Bill McDonoch, also of the Originals). A lot of deception, cross-dressing, and secret messages ensue, enabled by the black-leathered wiseass Speed (the Originals’ Molly W.B. Roberts), the clownish cry-baby Launce (Chris Reiling, who acts with Acorn Productions, Add Verb, Open Waters, and Good Theater), and Julia’s cheerleader underling, Lucetta (Elise Voigt, of Heartwood Regional Theater).
Mason’s production, staged on and around the rocks and hill adjacent the park’s reflecting pool, is gloriously minimalist. He’s managed to do without any set-pieces or lights (evening shows begin at 7 pm and run a mere 65 minutes, into just the inklings of dusk), and a boom-box provides the production’s few butt-rock grace notes. It’s refreshing to see outdoor theater whose ambitions don’t require a monster budget. Instead of elaborate stages, sets, light plots, and sound cues, the focus is simply on intrepid actors leaping and pronouncing over the grass, on top of rocks, and in teasingly close quarters with the audience. Fenix’s intimate, lo-fi production lets the audience, cross-legged and giggling on our blankets, feel as if we’re part of the careening adolescent horseplay.