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Originally published July 19, 2013 at 10:39 AM | Page modified July 19, 2013 at 2:36 PM

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Outdoor Shakespeare done well

Reviews of Seattle Shakespeare Company/Wooden O’s 2013 free outdoor productions of “Henry V” and “The Tempest.”

Seattle Times theater critic

THEATER REVIEW

‘Henry V’

By William Shakespeare. Wooden O. Free in local parks through Aug. 11 (schedule: www.seattleshakespeare.org).

‘King Lear’

By William Shakespeare. GreenStage. Free in local parks through Aug. 17 (schedule: www.greenstage.org).

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It’s one thing to gambol and cavort through Shakespeare’s romantic comedies in forested parks. (Many of them are set in woodlands anyway).

It’s another to battle jet noise, car horns and the shifting weather while staging deep tragedies by the Bard, or even his more complex history plays.

If any local ensembles are equipped for such endeavors, the GreenStage and Wooden O troupes are. They’ve been out there summer after summer, defying the forces of man and nature to bring classical drama (and comedy) to audiences, gratis.

How are they faring this summer, with a pair of weighty tales?

“King Lear”

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the low-budget-but-intrepid GreenStage is expanding its summer docket to two full park shows (“King Lear” and “Midsummer Night’s Dream”) plus some stripped-down “Backyard Bard” offerings in various locales.

Scaling the summit of “King Lear” is, surely, GreenStage’s most ambitious current assignment. This opus of family feuds, elder dementia, black comedy and grisly violence is fretted with some of the most exquisite poetic verse and heart-rending pathos in the canon.

Most crucial to the show is a good Lear, and GreenStage has that in veteran classical player Vince Brady. His crisp British diction and classical technique elevate his Lear to kingly status, making his comedown by ungrateful offspring a steep tumble indeed.

Brady also gives a detailed, astute account of Lear’s mental/physical decline. His fits of pique and spells of confusion are evident as he unwisely divvies up his kingdom. As he deteriorates, the erosion of this Lear’s dignity, and his helpless awareness of its loss, are keenly felt.

The text is neatly trimmed and briskly paced (a must, outdoors) by director Erin Day. And there is solid, articulate supporting work from much of the cast — Johnny Patchamatla and Gianni Truzzi as Lear loyalists; and Meredith Armstrong, Nicole Vernon and Ashley Flannegan as his daughters, nasty and nice.

The one jarring off-note is Daniel Wood, whose Mad Tom act as Edgar is unprofitably over the top.

After so many years trouping in the parks, it’s obvious GreenStage folk know what they’re doing. With all the distractions of open-air theater, they’re old hands at snagging your attention, and keeping it.

“Henry V”

With 21 years in the trenches, Wooden O is also no slouch with al fresco classics. Now under the aegis of Seattle Shakespeare Company, the tcompany has more resources than other area Shakespeare troupes and more access to Equity (union) performers.

Seattle Shakes artistic director George Mount’s staging of “Henry V” (in rep with “The Tempest”) skips over some subtleties (a given when acoustics are chancey , vocal projection extreme). But it excels at the vigorous battle scenes (with belching smoke from mock-explosive devices, and combatants hanging off Craig B. Wollam’s split-level set), and in David S. Hogan’s forceful turn as the bold young King Henry V.

A military monarch both thoughtful and ruthless, Henry V risks all to conquer France and almost miraculously triumphs — proving he’s not the pub-crawler of his younger days.

Hogan’s clear, resonant voice, his keen alertness and confident bearing radiate strength and determination. Also palpable here are Henry’s flickers of self-doubt. And his expedient yet sincere wooing of a French princess (lithesome Carolyn Marie Monroe) is sweet.

Michael Patten has a fine time as the scalliwag schemer Pistol, and the rest of the ensemble dispatch their swordplay and scattershot dialogue ably.

What’s tough sledding is the heavy exposition of the first scene, which sets up England’s claim to France in excruciating historical detail. This isn’t an easy lift in any “Henry V,” but outdoors, as you strain to hear the details, it’s hard to tune in.

Finding a way to better animate that turgid preamble could fire up the crowd sooner, for an otherwise lively outing.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

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