In less than five years, Brooks Reeves has worked with eight different Boston-area theater companies in nearly two dozen plays. He’s portrayed everyone from a guilt-ridden father in Company One’s twisted musical “Shockheaded Peter” to a marooned office manager in Stoneham Theatre’s “Neville’s Island” to a gay concentration camp prisoner in Zeitgeist Stage’s “Bent.”
Next week Reeves stars in “Hamlet,” Apollinaire Theatre Company’s free summer production at Chelsea’s PORT Park. Performances begin Wednesday and run through July 31. Unlike many actors, Reeves had no aspirations of playing the melancholy Dane.
“I take [each role] one at a time,” he says. “I’ve been blessed with a variety of roles, and my only goal is not to repeat myself.”
Reeves, 33, attended Hampshire College in Amherst, a long way from his hometown of Cheyenne, Wyo., but he never studied acting formally.
“I was interested in playwriting, and I think about acting from a playwright’s perspective,” he says. “But I never feel more comfortable than when I’m on stage.”
When he arrived in Boston, Reeves says he auditioned for everything and never turned down a part.
He came to “Hamlet” without any preconceived notions. “I hadn’t analyzed the text or anything,” he says, “but I did watch the Kenneth Branagh, Mel Gibson, and David Tennant film versions.”
That may not have been the best choice though, since the first time he tried the “to be or not to be” soliloquy, he admits he was over the top. Director Danielle Fauteux Jacques told him, “Don’t try to interpret, just be very direct,” he says.
Ultimately, “I believe my job as an actor is to fulfill the director’s vision. That means you can’t fall back on one style of acting. You have to draw on different skills for each director and each production.”
The outdoor setting for “Hamlet” provides some unique acting challenges since Fauteux Jacques is taking advantage of the variety of staging opportunities available throughout the park.
“I resisted Shakespeare for a long time,” says Fauteux Jacques, “but this space created lots of ideas for characters and motivations.”
PORT Park, with a spectacular view of the Chelsea River on one side and Eastern Salt Company’s mountains of road salt on the other, also includes a unique set of features Fauteux Jacques is incorporating into her promenade-style production.
“The audience will sit on the grass in the amphitheater for the first half and then we’ll take advantage of the bridge, playing scenes between Hamlet and Claudius in both directions, as well as the tower for a confrontation between the Ghost and Hamlet,” she says. She recommends that audiences bring lawn chairs or blankets.
“In the second half, the audience will move,” she says. “We’ll have a scene on the tugboat and another at the water guns. And then, we’re very excited because Eastern Salt has agreed to build a platform that will emerge out of the salt pile and also a pit on the other side where Ophelia will be buried.”
‘I believe my job as an actor is to fulfill the director’s vision. That means you can’t fall back on one style of acting. You have to draw on different skills for each director and each production.’
This is the second summer that Apollinaire has offered free theater at PORT Park following 11 years at Mary O’Malley Park on the Mystic River. In addition to the regular performances, Chelsea Youth Theatre students will offer “Hamlet” in Spanish July 30-31 at 6 p.m.
“Our audiences told us they were pleasantly surprised by the PORT Park’s dramatic possibilities last year,” says Fauteux Jacques. “Now that we have experience in the space, we are excited to use it even more effectively.”
Boston accent on new works
Boston-area playwrights Bill Doncaster, Obehi Janice, and Rick Park have been selected for SpeakEasy Stage Company’s Boston Project. The program, now in its second season, is an initiative that supports the development of new plays set in the city.
Doncaster returns for a second season to continue developing “Ward Nine,” which focuses on Boston politics and one man’s fight to stay in his home. Janice will develop “Ole White Sugah Daddy,” the story of an ambitious young woman that delves into the issues of race and class. Park will work on “Knock Down, Drag Out,” the story of a drag performer who fights to keep a South End club from being torn down to make way for condos.
Playwrights in The Boston Project receive a stipend and a two-week developmental workshop, culminating in a staged reading in March.
Paula Plum returns to Gloucester Stage Company to direct another comedy by Deborah Zoe Laufer after last year’s hit “Out of Sterno.” Laufer’s “The Last Schwartz,” about a dysfunctional family whose reunion takes some surprising twists, runs through July 30. Tickets: $25-$38, 978-281-4433, www.gloucesterstage.com
Presented by Apollinaire Theatre Company. At PORT Park, 99 Marginal St., Chelsea, July 13-31. Free. www.apollinairetheatre.comTerry Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.