- Portland Shakespeare Project’s Michael Mendelson talks about big casts, big dreams, and the allure of the classics
By Bob Hicks
Michael Mendelson is sitting at his regular table at Kornblatt’s Delicatessen in Northwest Portland, where he is greeted warmly by name and the waitress checks back on him more often than the line cooks slap classic corned beef and pastrami sandwiches on the busy kitchen’s window. Your regular, Michael? He smiles and nods. Soon his crisp bagel and mound of lox are at hand.
After all these years in Portland as one of the city’s best and busiest actors, Mendelson is still an industrial Midwest big city boy in certain inalienable ways, including his appetite for honest-to-god deli food, which you can’t much get around here except at oases like Kornblatt’s and Kenny & Zuke’s. He also stands out in spite of himself for a certain reserved elegance that is common in the neighborhoods of older cities but almost an oddity in loosey goosey Portland. At times Mendelson carries the hint of an Old World gentleman, a man of quietly impeccable business affairs. Here he is, an actor, on his way to the rehearsal hall (he’s playing Gayev in Artists Rep’s current production of The Cherry Orchard), sitting in a deli wearing a tie and dress shirt, perfect-length cuffs buttoned and jacket slung carefully over the adjacent chair. Let other people keep Portland weird. Mendelson will keep it rooted, thank you very much.
Of late Mendelson has been devoting much of his time to a massive new project: the launching of the Portland Shakespeare Project, a summer company that will make its debut July 13-August 7 with the comedy As You Like It, featuring Darius Pierce as Touchstone, Cristi Miles as Rosalind, Melissa Whitney as Celia, and original music by the noted singer/songwriter Mary Kadderly. You might not have heard of PSP (Mendelson is founder and artistic director) but the city’s actors have. More than 175 sent head shots and resumes. Mendelson and staff saw more than 100 in initial audition, called back 42, and finally cast 16 for 21 roles.