Shakespeare in the Park comes to La Grande

Tim Mustoe/Go! staff
An audience gathers Friday for Shakespeare in the Park at 
La Grande’s Riverside Park.

Shakespeare in the Park

When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Where: Riverside Park, La Grande

Cost: Free

LA GRANDE — Even a dog gets into the act when Shakespeare in the Park comes to La Grande.

Performances of the fun, rollicking Shakespeare comedy “Two Gentlemen of Verona” started last weekend at Riverside Park. The free show continues this weekend at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

“It’s an accessible play and a lot of fun,” said Grant Turner, director of the La Grande Shakespeare Co. putting on the show. “For anyone daunted by Shakespeare, this is a great starter opportunity for them.”

People are invited to bring a blanket and a picnic basket and enjoy 90 minutes of fun entertainment.

The cast of the show, ostensibly about the two title characters’ journey from Verona to Milan, includes Israel Bloodgood as Proteus, Cody Wyld Flower as Valentine, Bryn McLaughlin as Julia, Jessica Moran as Silvia and Heidi Laurance as Launce.

And, oh yes, the dog.

“There’s a brilliance to this dog character,” Turner said. “The play written 500 years ago has probably been performed 10,000 or 100,000 times. Every time the dog comes out on stage, it makes an impression. Whether big or small, aggressive or timid, if the dog looks the human character in the eye, it’s funny. If it looks away, it’s funny. If it barks, it’s funny.”

The play includes a lot of the ingredients of Shakespeare’s better-known plays. These include a woman disguised as a boy, both a witty and a dim-witted servant and a pair of star-crossed lovers.

Turner said “Two Gentlemen of Verona” appealed to him because it’s an early play by a young playwright about a bunch of young people.

“We are a new theater company with a bunch of young people,” Turner said. “It seemed like a nice match between Shakespeare’s work and reality. It’s also very funny, very witty. I have an intelligent group of actors. These sort of verbal word-play exchanges are great for them. There’s a great sort of bubbly innocence that circulates throughout the play that matches well with our company makeup.”

The idea for Shakespeare in the Park was to keep the new La Grande Shakespeare Co. in the public eye. The company’s first production was “All’s Well that Ends Well,” which was staged in the Stage Door Theatre in April.

“There is a Shakespeare in the Park tradition in many cities throughout the U.S.,” Turner said. “People didn’t seem too enthusiastic about paying $20 for ‘All’s Well’ so we thought the free performance might get us a bigger audience. We like to perform, work on these acts. Otherwise, we’d just sit around all summer. It seemed like the perfect storm of opportunities.”

The stage will be set up near the Grande Ronde River. Those attending should just look for actors in Elizabethan costumes. The costumes are designed by Denise Wheeler.

The La Grande Shakespeare Co. has continuing plans to stay in the public eye. The company will stage “King Lear” in collaboration with Eastern Oregon University Feb. 11-13 and 18-20 in McKenzie Theatre.

“And if I can get the resources together, we’d like to do a show in October or November,” Turner said.

The dog will probably be sitting on the sidelines for that one.

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