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Classic theater takes a modern twist

Theater Masque Alfresco brings “The Would-be Gentleman,” Moliere’s satire on social climbing, to the steps of the Hillsboro Civic Center Plaza Aug. 22-24.Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTO - Ken Dembo (top row left), Ravyn Jazper-Hawke, Tory Mitchell (top row right), Elizabeth Houghton (lower right), Sarah Keyes Chang (lower left) will bring Molieres classic tale, The Would-be Gentleman to life in Hillsboro.

The production, first performed in 1670, has been updated and adapted by Theater Masque Alfresco founder and artistic director Fayra Teeters, whose long career in theater centers on the larger than life physical comedy of commedia dell’arte.

In doing so, she’s trimmed the original three-hour play to about 90 minutes, but kept the social commentary, the slapstick, the colorful, energetic dancing and leaping around and the over-the-top acting.

“The actors play their hearts out,” said Teeters, who also directs. “They give it everything they’ve got. This is really actors’ theater rather than literary theater.”

That gives Teeters leeway for updating lines until just before each showtime, planting pithy commentary based on the day’s current events and slams on pop culture and celebrities.

A recent performance, for instance, included references to an altercation between pop singer Justin Bieber and actor Orlando Bloom.

“We are equal opportunity destroyers,” she laughed.

Audiences might also want to watch for scenes like what Teeters calls “the hat Nazi,” and for rap written by Ravyn Jazper-Hawke, who plays the wife of the wealthy, but foolish, social-climbing businessman Jourdain, played by Tory Mitchell.

Jourdain tries music, dance, philosophy and a new wardrobe in his attempt to rise above his station in life.

Teeters said she is especially thrilled to have Portland’s Drammy Award winning actor Ken Dembo playing the conniving, no-account Count Dorante, who befriends Jourdain by feeding his social climbing ambitions while at the same time separating him from his money.

Other cast members, some playing multiple parts, are Laurence Cox, Daniel Robertson, Amanda Clark, Elizabeth Houghton, Sarah Keys Chang, Rian Turner and Kathryn Brown.

Costumer Nan Frederick manages the character changes through quick-change switches of jackets and hats.

The commedia dell’arte theater tradition, from which slapstick masters such as Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges evolved, is perfect for modern social and political commentary, Teeters said.

She formed the nonprofit Theater Masque Alfresco in 2002 to bring affordable, accessible theater to Portland metropolitan area communities. Each summer, they perform free in venues throughout the area, thanks to grant support from state, regional and local arts organizations.

And, while admission is free, following each production, actors meet and greet audience members while passing the hat for donations, Teeters said.

All the actors are paid stipends for the rehearsal and performance season.

Throughout the year, Theater Masque Alfresco supports emerging playwrights with staged readings and full productions, and offers continuing training for actors in classical and experimental styles of theater, said Teeters.



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