Slow and steady hardly describes the growth of the Fenix Theatre Co.

Meteoric might be more apt.

The Portland-based theater troupe begins its fifth season of free outdoor Shakespeare this week with a production of “Macbeth.” As it has in the past, Rob Cameron and his groundlings will present a fast-paced, truncated version of a Shakespeare classic at Deering Oaks in Portland. This year, they expand to Brunswick as well.

Beginning this Thursday and every Thursday through Aug. 9, Fenix will stage “Macbeth” on the Quad at Bowdoin College. It will present the show every Friday and Saturday starting this week through Aug. 11 at Deering Oaks. Brunswick performances begin at 6 p.m. In Portland, showtime is 6:30 p.m.

“I think we’ve seen some pretty exponential growth in the past five years,” said Cameron, the company’s producing artistic director. “For our first season with ‘Two Gents’ (‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’), we had maybe 75 folks for each performance. Now our numbers are into the hundreds every night. We’re getting a lot more word-of-mouth. People know about us, and have great things to say.”

They surely do.

Fenix has distinguished itself with its deft performances. It attracts some of the region’s best actors, and stages shows that are fun and witty. And there is something intrinsically appealing about Shakespeare in the park, with its casual setting.

Fenix heavily edits the scripts. These shows last somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 minutes. For the audience, it’s not a big commitment of time — and no commitment of money, although many folks donate generously.

Fenix gets a few grants, but it relies on audience donations to support a budget of about $10,000. Almost all that money goes to the actors.

The move to Brunswick wasn’t necessarily in the plans. Company member Abigail Killeen teaches drama at Bowdoin, and suggested the expansion to an outdoor campus location.

Bowdoin already hosts Maine State Music Theatre at Pickard Theater. Having an additional theater option just down the Quad makes a lot of sense. Combine that with the Bowdoin International Music Festival and a major art exhibition in the museum, and Bowdoin becomes a very hot arts destination this summer.

Fenix will stage its shows in front of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, facing the museum. The audience will sit on the museum steps.

The other twist this summer is the choice of the shows. Generally, Fenix has chosen lighter Shakespeare fare. Comedies tend to appeal to a broad audience.

Fenix stuck its toe in the drama water last summer by offering Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” in addition to “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” “Godot” felt right, Cameron said.

“I found it to be a successful experience as an artist, and the cast members did as well. I think that translated with the audience,” he said.

“Macbeth” is the shortest of Shakespeare’s tragedies and perhaps the easiest to edit down. It is more within the grasp of Fenix’s scope than the epic scores of the others, Cameron said.

“The folks we have on our team who cut these scripts are really adept at making sure that, yes, you are getting an abridged version, but what stays on the cutting-room floor is really information that is not needed to propel the story along,” Cameron said. “We have a good knack for keeping all that is important in the plotline and the arc of story.”

“Macbeth” has a cast of 10. In addition to Cameron, who plays Macbeth, and Killeen, who plays Lady Macbeth, the cast includes Molly Bryant Roberts, Allison McCall, Brittany Cook, Maureen Tannian Butler, Sally Wood, Josh Vink, Benedetto Robinson and Susan Garrett.

Bryant Mason directs. He directed “Two Gents” in 2008 and “Godot” last year.

With the edits, this version of “Macbeth” comes down to a man and his ambitions, and how he has allowed those ambitions to mold him into a force of evil.

“We are taking away the extraneous elements often seen layered on it, and stripping it down to a man who is wracked with this mixed emotion — or is it clinical ambivalence? Should I do it, or should I not? He just goes further and further in the direction of damnation, because he continues to kill and to essentially quench the anxieties,” Cameron said. “We want to explore the anguish and the tortured man. We are interested in taking him from a stoic, big general and making him human.”

Interestingly, audience members won’t see any blood and few weapons. This show has a lot of violence in it, but Fenix portrays very little of that violence.

Cameron is pleased with how things are going.

“It never feels like it is slowing down or plateauing, which is really heartening for me as a producer,” he said. “I feel like it has grown a lot and has a lot more room for growth until it plateaus into what it will become. What that is, we don’t know.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 79-6457 or: [email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes




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