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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: July 15, 2015

Fenix Theatre Co. opens ‘Hamlet’ in a truck this weekend plus more summer Shakespeare

Written by: Bob Keyes
The cast of Fenix Theatre Company’s “Hamlet” in a truck similar to the one from which they’ll perform the play.

The cast of Fenix Theatre Company’s “Hamlet” in a truck similar to the one from which they’ll perform the play.

After seven years presenting provocative twists on Shakespeare, Fenix Theatre Company begins its summer season Thursday at Deering Oaks Park in Portland with the biggest twist of all. Actors from Fenix will perform “Hamlet” in and around the box of a 17-foot truck, which will be parked on the Deering Oaks access road where food vendors set up for the farmers’ market.

For the first time, Fenix actors’ voices also will be amplified, addressing persistent audience complaints about difficulty hearing.

The truck idea started with the troupe’s director, Abigail Killeen. She saw a performance by Bridgman | Packer Dance in New York called “Truck.” It occurred inside a rental truck, with the audience peering in at the open back. She appreciated how the truck became part of the show and not just a platform, and thought a similar approach would work well at Deering Oaks with “Hamlet.”

She called Fenix’s artistic director, Rob Cameron, with the idea, and expected a cool reception.

Instead, Cameron replied, “Tell me more.”

“When someone is persistent about something, I want to hear it out,” Cameron said. “I appreciated Abbie’s passion.”

While the truck represents a step toward experimental theater, the microphones represent necessity. As the crowds have grown, it’s become harder for the actors to reach people and hold their attention, Cameron said. Performers will pass around hand-held microphones, making it easier for them to project to larger crowds while retaining the casual nature of the performance.

Instead of trying to hide the mikes from the audience, Killeen is using them in her staging. “Hamlet” involves power and control, and Killeen’s distribution of the mikes helps enhance and diminish the stature of characters.

The Fenix shows at Deering Oaks have become a highlight of summer theater in Portland, attracting a diverse mix of people to the park for nightly performances. There are a lot of parents with kids and pets, couples and minglers who happen on the scene by accident and stay for a show. Others bring blankets, chairs and picnics.

Fenix is known for its loose but loyal performances. It strips Shakespeare down to about 90 minutes, making the plays digestible for casual audiences, without losing the power of the language.

The company includes a cast of 10.

“Hamlet,” Fenix Theatre Company, 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday through Aug. 8, Deering Oaks Park; performance on July 25 will be at Congress Square; free. Fenixtheatre.com. Generally, Fenix performs in the rain, too. Call 207-400-6223 for updated rain information, and bring a blanket or chair.

More Shakespeare to sample:

Yoni Bronstein as Caesar, with Susannah Jones as Calpurnia and Kyle Walton as Mark Antony in the MaineStage Shakespeare production of “Julius Caesar” in Kennebunk.

Yoni Bronstein as Caesar, with Susannah Jones as Calpurnia and Kyle Walton as Mark Antony in the MaineStage Shakespeare production of “Julius Caesar” in Kennebunk.

MaineStage Shakespeare in Kennebunk is in its fifth season, and stages two plays, “Twelfth Night” and “Julius Caesar.” It presents the shows in repertory each Wednesday to Saturday through Aug. 22, which means audiences can see both during a weekend. Plays begin at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport; 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday at Lafayette Park in Kennebunk, and 8 p.m. Saturday at Kennebunkport’s Village Green. Admission is free. If it rains, the plays will be moved to Kennebunk Town Hall. mainestageshakespeare.com

Rachel Clausen and Bart Shattuck in the Bath Shakespeare Festival production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Rachel Clausen and Bart Shattuck in the Bath Shakespeare Festival production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Bath Shakespeare Festival presents “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” beginning Thursday at Library Park, 33 Summer St. Stephen Legawiec directs the show, which is presented in partnership with Patten Free Library. Performances begin at 6 p.m. Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, through July 26; $20, $15 seniors and students, $5, age 12 or younger. bathshakespeare.org or 207-854-8882.

The Theater at Monmouth consistently presents the most loyal and inventive productions of Shakespeare in Maine, and has two titles this summer. It opens the comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at 7:30 p.m. July 23, and continues “The Winter’s Tale” through Aug. 22. Tickets range from $10 to $30; theateratmonmouth.org or 207-933-9999.

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