Tag Archives: Michael Mendelson

What’s old is new: Wm Shkspr in PDX

  • Portland Shakespeare Project’s Michael Mendelson talks about big casts, big dreams, and the allure of the classics

"The Weird Sisters," Henry Fuseli, 1783. Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Michael Mendelson, artistic director of the new Portland Shakespeare Project, as Gayev in "The Cherry Orchard" at Artists Repertory Theatre. Photo: OwenCarey/2011.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.

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News flash: famous actor also writes

By Bob Hicks

Mr. Scatter has a theory: William Shakespeare wrote the plays of William Shakespeare. Not that it matters all that much — the play, not the playwright, really is the thing — but there you are.

The subject comes up now for a couple of reasons.

Title page of the First Folio, by William Shakespeare, with copper engraving of the author by Martin Droeshout. Image courtesy of the Elizabeth Club and the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University. [1] Date 	  1623(1623) Source 	  Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University [2] Author 	  William Shakespeare; copper engraving of Shakespeare by Martin DroeshoutFirst, Mr. Scatter has been talking of late with the talented actor Michael Mendelson, who is deep in the process of preparing for the first production of his new company, the Portland Shakespeare Project. We’ll have more on that fascinating summer’s tale very soon.

Second, Mr. Shakespeare/Shakspere/Shakspur/Shake-speare/Shagspere recently celebrated (or rather, was celebrated on the occasion of) his four hundred forty-seventh birthday, a party crashed by a small yet growing chorus of naysayers who claim he was nothing but a front man for the real author of the poems and plays.

Although Mr. Scatter does not believe he falls into the category of Shakespeare idolizer, he does believe that Father Okham’s principle should be applied here. The simplest answer seems to be that the man whose name is on the title page actually is the author. The burden of proof that some other unknown person, for reasons of intricate subterfuge, instead hired Shagspur as a screen must fall on those making the claim, and despite its academic fashionability it’s an exceedingly difficult proposition to accept. Mr. Scatter has adopted the Theory of Simple Authorship not just because several pretenders to the throne, if they were actually writing some of the plays, were doing so under the misfortunate handicap of being dead, or because a small-town grammar school education in the late 1500s was a tad more rigorous than today (did you take Latin, even when you were in college?), or because of internal consistencies or inconsistencies in the scripts (it’s true, the plays have a sometimes tenuous grasp on the finer points of geography), or because the playwright did or didn’t know or should or shouldn’t have known a rat’s behind about the intrigues of court life, social-climbing little commoner that he was.

No, Mr. Scatter has concluded that Wm Shkspr wrote Wm Shkspr because Shakespeare was an actor. The plays scream out this simple fact. No minor-league lord of the realm, let alone major-league lady (some anti-Stratfordians have posited that Good Queen Bess herself took the “Shakespearean” pen in hand) could have understood the inner workings of the theater so completely unless he or she at some point had run away and joined the Elizabethan equivalent of the circus, and with apologies to the champions of that powdered sophisticate Edward de Vere, evidence is less than scant of that.

Mr. Scatter concedes that proletarian politics play into his determination. If Wm Shagspere was a commoner, so is Mr. Scatter, and at least an ounce of class solidarity goes into his pound of persuasion. Mr. Scatter bristles at the notion that a commoner could not possibly have created the artistic astonishment that is the Shakspeherian canon: He believes that genius strikes where genius strikes, and like a cold bug, it will strike where it wants.

Of course, Mr. Scatter isn’t dogmatic on the subject, and he doesn’t hold a grudge. He believes the anti-Stratfordians are good people at heart (goodness, he even knows a few) and thinks they should feel free to wander happily in their conspiratorial woods.

Pursued by a bear.


Title page of the First Folio, 1623, by William Shakespeare, with copper engraving of the author by Martin Droeshout. Image courtesy of the Elizabeth Club and the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University. Wikimedia Commons.

Portland Photo Month, all over town

"Still Life with Lemons, Grapes and Apple," Kerry Davis, at 12x16 GalleryKerry Davis/12×16 Gallery

By Bob Hicks

Quit fooling around with Photo Booth stretchy faces on your new iPad: time to get serious about this shutterbug thing. April is Portland Photo Month, aligning itself with the biannual Photolucida portfolio extravaganza, and high-quality photo shows are all over town.

On Saturday, a big handful of Pearl District galleries will be open late for receptions, generally until 7 in the evening and generally with the featured photographers on hand. Get details at the Portland Photo Month Web site, which has the advantage of also being an excellent virtual photogravure of what’s going on this month. You’ll also find listings of various artists’ talks: for instance, the excellent nature photographer Ron Cronin speaks at noon Saturday at Augen Gallery.

Mitch Dobrowner, "Bear's Claw," Blue Sky GalleryMitch Dobrowner/Blue Sky Gallery

In print: Meanwhile, I have brief reviews in this morning’s Oregonian A&E section of several gallery shows: Sean Healy’s small-town cultural lament Upstate, which involves a lot of cigarette butts, at Elizabeth Leach; Isaac Layman’s big manipulated household photos, also at Leach; Eirik Johnson and Julie Blackmon’s radically differing but equally appealing photos, at Laura Russo; and Kentree Spiers’ small bright semi-abstract landscapes at Blackfish. Pick up a dead tree and check it out, or see it online here.

Previews of coming attractions: This afternoon I’ll be having coffee with artist Nan Curtis, this year’s winner of one of Portland’s most coveted arts prizes, the Bonnie Bronson Fellowship Award. We’ll be passing along some of what she has to say. A public reception is coming up 6-7:30 p.m. Monday, April 25, in the lounge of Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium.

Last week I sat down with the excellent Portland actor Michael Mendelson (he’s opening soon in The Cherry Orchard at Artists Rep) to talk about his newest passion, the Portland Shakespeare Project. The new company, for which he’s artistic director, opens this summer with one of the Bard’s best comedies, As You Like It, plus a staged reading of Jeffrey Hatcher’s Compleat Female Stage Beauty, a comedy about English theater in the days when men and boys still played the women’s roles. More to come.

Finally, Mr. Scatter is getting ready to embark on yet another expedition into the wild and woolly northlands, on beyond the concrete canyons of Microsoftia and into the frontier territories of Bug and Jam. Who knows what wondrous unanticipated adventures might occur?

Tracy Letts, the ‘Superior’ actors’ writer

Bill Geisslinger and Vin Shambry in "Superior Donuts" at Artists Rep. Photo: Owen Carey.

By Bob Hicks

When you see the killer-good performances in Artists Repertory Theatre‘s current hit Superior Donuts, remember this: Tracy Letts is an actor. And when actors write plays, they write them with actors in mind.

Letts, the Steppenwolf Theatre stalwart who won the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for his 2008 family drama August: Osage County, has a long history with Artists Rep, which has also produced his plays Bug and Killer Joe and commissioned his adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters. In each case, viewers argued about the literary quality of the scripts, but most everyone agreed they made for terrific performances.

Which brings up an interesting point: If a script creates juicy roles, doesn’t that mean it’s a good script? If it gives actors the opportunity to do the things actors do best, is that somehow different from literary quality? Or is performance its own thing?

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