Michael Pennington makes Shakespeare accessible

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Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 11.09.33 AMLA GRANDE — Grant Turner, the artistic director of the La Grande Shakespeare Company, takes special care to make Shakespeare accessible to the average modern audience. He trims the plays,  tweaks some phrases and puts emphasis on facial expression and movement to convey the meaning of the words.

So when his own mom had a Shakespearean revelation at the hands of someone else, Turner couldn’t help but laugh.

“My mother has seen most of my stuff and tried to be a fan for a long time, but it still goes over her head sometimes,” Turner said. “She saw Michael Pennington’s show, ‘Sweet William,’ in Portland and loved it. She said Michael makes it accessible for her.”

Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 11.28.22 AMNow, Turner is making sure Eastern Oregon can also experience Shakespeare through Pennington’s one-man show, “Sweet William.”

Michael Pennington is traveling to Eastern Oregon to present his one-man show "Sweet William."

Michael Pennington is traveling to Eastern Oregon to present his one-man show “Sweet William.”

The show features dual narratives: one of his own experience with Shakespeare and the other of the renowned playwright. Pennington intertwines scenes from Shakespeare’s plays with his own experiences with the playwright.

Pennington said he was introduced to Shakespeare when he was an 11-year-old boy who was more interested in football than theatre. His parents took him to see “Macbeth,” and he was hooked.

“I wasn’t prepared for it,” he said. “Something in (the language) affected me emotionally.”

Pennington said Shakespeare hadn’t been taught properly in England at the time, so many people couldn’t understand the language until their 20s, at least.

“Fortunately, at 11, I could,” he said. “I saw it as an instrument, and I knew it was an instrument I could play as well.”

Pennington said the production was very violent and bloody, something that now might be thought to have been done by the cinematic director Quentin Tarantino. As a boy, that was right up Pennington’s alley.

The performer includes personal anecdotes like this in “Sweet William” to better connect with the audience.

“When I’ve seen solo Shakespeare speeches, there’s usually little about the actor,” he said. “I share my opinions and hope my choice of speeches reflect my taste. And I do it in a way that I hope is interesting.”

His show includes a bit of history about Shakespeare, too, so modern audiences can better understand the centuries-dead playwright.

Unlike many artists, Pennington said Shakespeare never had a period of growth.

“He started out brilliant and continued brilliant,” Pennington said. “He didn’t improve over the years. He sprung up like a miracle.”

Turner said Pennington has a “magic” of his own.

“‘Sweet William’ is great at making archaic language seem natural and accessible,” Turner said. “Anyone with a fear of Shakespeare should check it out.”

The show will be held 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Elgin Opera House, 104 N 8th Ave., Elgin. Tickets cost $20 and can be purchased at the door or in advance at Looking Glass Books, 1304 Adams Ave., La Grande.

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