By Laurelle Walsh
Travel back into the Elizabethan world of the late 1500s for an evening with William Shakespeare, in a one-night performance of “A Visit with Will” at The Merc Playhouse on Friday (Feb. 13).
Actor, director, teacher and writer Rod Molzahn presents the one-man show, which starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for youth 18 and under. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Molzahn, as Will, will portray Shakespeare’s life as he imagines the “Bard of Avon,” would speak: discussing his family, the culture and politics of the day, and his work as poet and playwright, based on facts that Molzahn has gathered through years of research and performance. He involves the audience in the show, asks them what they know about Shakespeare and bases his performance on the viewers’ responses, Molzahn said.
“It changes every time I do it,” Molzahn said. “I never get tired of it.”
Will speaks to the audience in intimate, conversational terms in the manner of the common people of the time, Molzahn said. The syntax and vocabulary may be slightly unfamiliar, but after performances people generally come up and tell him that they understood everything, he said.
“If actors know what they’re doing with Shakespeare, the audience should have no trouble understanding,” said Molzahn. “I want to let people hear some of his language; otherwise, what’s the point?”
Molzahn has been performing as Will Shakespeare for almost 30 years. He last brought “A Visit with Will” to the Methow Valley around 10 years ago, in a performance at the Twisp River Pub, he said.
“Shakespeare is amazingly funny,” Molzahn said. “I use that humor to help tell his story and engage the audience.”
While he often performs at grade schools and adjusts his stories to suit younger audiences, he feels that viewers middle school age and up appreciate his performances best.
While the content may occasionally veer toward the racy, sharing Shakespeare’s foibles and humanity “is a great way for the audience to connect with how little people have changed over the centuries,” Molzahn said.
In “A Tale of Two Anns,” Molzahn reveals the fact that Will Shakespeare was engaged to two women — both named Ann — at the same time. “He ended up marrying one of them,” Molzahn said, after the consequences of his behavior forced Will’s decision. “It’s a real-life, funny story,” and belies the perception that Shakespeare is stiff or formal, he said.
Molzahn “fell in love with acting” in college, and tried out for every part that came his way, he said.
He moved to Wenatchee in 1966, first teaching in the public schools before he was hired to help rebuild the drama program at Wenatchee Valley College, he said.
Molzahn founded the Mission Creek Players around 35 years ago, where he performed a one-person show as Mark Twain, essentially reading the comic writer’s works, he said. But he really wanted to develop his own one-person show in which he could “embody a real character,” he said. He considered doing the beloved Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, but “didn’t look like him,” Molzahn said.
Next he set about reading all of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry and “found the man in his writing,” he said. He followed that with six or seven years of research on the Bard’s life, his work, and the Elizabethan Renaissance era.
Molzahn compiled his research into a series of stories about Shakespeare and in 1986 began performing them before audiences. “Eventually I put both feet into acting,” quit his job at Wenatchee Valley College, and took “A Visit with Will” on the road throughout the United States and Canada for several years, he said.
The actor has given up traveling six months of the year, but he hasn’t given up performing, directing and teaching. He directs summer theater camps for middle- and high-school students in Wenatchee and one in Newport, Oregon, where he also does a dinner-theater show when he’s in town.
As a Methow Arts artist-in-residence, he directed Liberty Bell Junior/Senior High School students in “Nickel Shakespeare” in 2008. Two years ago he co-directed Two Gentlemen of Verona with Jane Orme and the Liberty Bell Drama Club.
When he’s not doing theater, Molzahn teaches at Westside High School in Wenatchee and writes a monthly column on the history of North Central Washington in the journal The Good Life. He is also working on a book about the region’s history.
Molzahn is currently spending part of each week in the Methow directing the Children’s Theater production of As You Like It, which will be presented at The Merc Playhouse in March.
For more information, contact The Merc at www.mercplayhouse.org or 997-7529.