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Shakespeare comes to the Bloedel Reserve | Kitsap Week

Brace Evans rehearses as Sir Andrew Aguecheek  for the “Twelfth Night” production that will perform at the Bloedel Reserve this July.   -  Jennifer Crooks
Brace Evans rehearses as Sir Andrew Aguecheek for the “Twelfth Night” production that will perform at the Bloedel Reserve this July.
— image credit: Jennifer Crooks

“Twelfth Night”

When: July 11-13, 17-20, 24-26 at 7 p.m.

Where: The Sheep Shed at the Bloedel Reserve, 7571 NE Dolphin Drive, Bainbridge Island

Tickets: $25 adults, $20 seniors, students, youth, military and teachers

Info: www.bloedelreserve.org

The last time Shakespeare graced the grounds of the Bloedel Reserve was nearly 25 years ago.

Now he’s back. At least, his comedy is.

“This is the most requested artistic programs we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Ed Moydell, executive director of the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island.

A unique performance

William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” will be performed outdoors at the award-winning public garden on weekends in July. The experience aims to be among the most unique performances of Shakespeare patrons will see.

“It’s theater in a natural setting. It’s not Shakespeare in the park,” director Tom Challinor said. “The theater just happens to be outside. It’s not like a park atmosphere and having kids playing nearby.”

Challinor is careful to note the distinction between the Bloedel performance and other outdoor Shakespeare productions. The garden not only adds to the ambience, but is integral to the particular rendition.

“Shakespeare inside a theater is old, musty. It smells like mold, it isn’t special,” Challinor said. “This production can’t be anywhere else. This is designed for a specific location, and it is a production that only those people sitting in those seats can see. It’s suddenly fresh and new. Patrons are thrilled and excited.”

He added, “The audience becomes part of a larger theatrical experience that is impossible with a stage.”

The intimate performance is not only unique to theatergoers, but to Bloedel fans as well. The garden will open the theater area around the Sheep Shed an hour early, to allow audience members to picnic.

“Picnicking isn’t usually allowed so it’s kind of a treat to do that,” said Korum Bischoff of Bloedel Reserve.

“It’s a short walk through a meadow to the Sheep Shed where it will be,” he said. “There will be wine for sale and you can bring in food if you like.”

Bischoff said similar events were difficult to organize in the past. Gating off performances spaces, guiding audiences to different garden locales was a bit tricky. Having local expertise through Bainbridge Performing Arts helps, he said.

It’s a bit of an experiment, Bischoff said, but he hopes it will grow into a more common offering at the 150-acre reserve which is home to a range of settings from meadows, to ponds, a Japanese garden, views of the Puget Sound, and a historic French country-style house.

“I can imagine Juliet speaking from the balcony here at the house,” Bischoff said.

A classic comedy

“Love makes us do incredibly stupid things,” Challinor said while talking of the play’s themes. “How do we choose the people we fall in love with? We don’t. It just happens.”

Challinor tackled a similar theatrical endeavor last year with an outdoor production of “The Tempest” at Islandwood, also on Bainbridge. “Twelfth Night” is a selection he has been eager to perform. Now with a cast of 16 — from Kitsap and Seattle — he has his chance.

“ ‘Twelfth Night’ is a dark comedy,” Challinor said. “It’s the very end of (Shakespeare’s) run of comedies before he started writing tragedies.

“Even though it’s funny, we don’t necessarily feel good about ourselves for laughing,” he said. “It starts to be a little bit mean at times. It challenges the audience to ask what exactly is entertaining.”

At the heart of the play is a love story. This is Shakespeare, though, so love cannot not be so simple.

“The plot of the play surrounds a love triangle,” Challinor said.

The 2 hour and 15 minute story begins with a shipwreck. Young twins — a boy and a girl — are separated during the accident at sea. The girl washes ashore and eventually finds her way into the service of a duke as a messenger; though, to gain the gig she disguises herself as a young man.

The duke uses the messenger to relate his love to a woman, Olivia. But Olivia, in turn, falls for the young messenger; a girl disguised as a man. Things get a bit more complicated as the disguised messenger falls in love with the duke.

The story of disguise, deceit and devotion, combined with the antics of supporting cast, and a clown named Feste, sets the humor in motion for one of Shakespeare’s more well-known comedies.

Feste, played by Joel Underwood, who takes on the role of the clown with his guitar, maintaining the classic Shakespearian lines, but with originally composed music for the Bloedel production. It’s part of what makes the reserve’s presentation unique. Challinor believes that while some people can be intimidated by Shakespeare, this performance is not to be feared.

“As a director, I’m very aware of a comic book presentation,” Challinor said. “When I read a comic book as a kid I didn’t get all the words, but it didn’t matter. I still got the story. I don’t want to belittle the words in any way, but you will still get the story. It’s funny and it’s fun.”

But wait, whatever happened to the other twin from the shipwreck? Find out at the Bloedel Reserve.

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