Zora Lungren performed in her first play, “Romeo and Juliet,” when she was a seventh grader attending Langley Middle School. Today, in a vintage theater tent propped in the field behind that same middle school, she is preparing to relate what is known in theater circles as “the unplayable scene.”
Lungren, who eventually left her small hometown to attend college in the Big Apple, is rehearsing to play Lady Anne Neville in Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” one of two roles she will perform in repertory as a part of this summer’s annual Island Shakespeare Festival.
Rose Woods, founder of Island Shakespeare Festival, invited Lungren to return to Whidbey to be a part of this year’s performances in “Richard III” and as part of the ensemble in “Taming of the Shrew,” to which Lungren accepted.
“I can see all of my roots from the tent. It’s such a great feeling to be coming back to my roots in such a sweet way,” said Lungren.
Aside from the astounding beauty of the island in summertime, Lungren said she enjoys visiting Whidbey for the bragging rights it affords her as she tells friends back in New York about the warm welcome she received upon her homecoming and the vibrant, supportive arts community that helped shape the actor she is today.
“I brag to all my friends in New York that we have such an amazing theater community on the island,” Lungren said. “That is so rare and beautiful.”
For Lungren, this close-knit community of artists and art-lovers offered her an opportunity for self-exploration and evolution during her time spent growing up in Langley.
“I always felt at home in the theater. I was always excited to go to rehearsal. I always had so many other things going on but when I was in a show, that was always the most important to me… I felt that every time I took on a character it made me open my eyes and grow as a human being, it opened another facet of my personality and myself,” she said. “I felt that I matured in a very special way. I was exposed to such good theater and such support from the community.”
For South Whidbey resident and Island Shakespeare company member Shelley Hartle, Lungren and their fellow actor Morgan Bondelid, a resident of Freeland, researching their roles has proven especially rewarding.
“This role is probably my favorite because she’s incredibly strong and smart and unyielding. She had to put up with a lot of crap,” said Bondelid of her character, Queen Elizabeth in Richard III. “This is a real person…Researching her has been really fascinating.”
Though Shakespeare’s play contains some historical discrepancies, Lungren noted that she, Woods and the rest of the group had decided to stick to the script while keeping historical context in mind.
“I’m so excited for ‘Richard’ because the part is so juicy and so meaty. I just sent out this one super-duper-long email to Rose of all these ideas I have… I’m so excited to sink my teeth into it. It’s so intense; the wordplay is so amazing. It’s literally an actress’ dream.”
The reason this scene is known as “unplayable,” according to Lungren, is that it requires the actress to make sense out of a nonsensical situation: Lady Anne Neville accepts a marriage proposal from the man who recently murdered her brothers and father, while in the line of her bereaved loved one’s funeral procession.
For Lungren, it is a challenge she is more than willing to accept, particularly due to her fascination with Lady Anne Neville’s strength and wit despite the circumstances of her life and upbringing.
Jackie Apodaca, guest director of “Taming of the Shrew,” concurred with Lungren, Hartle, Woods and Bondelid that the works of classic playwrights and storytellers such as Shakespeare are timeless. Apodaca referenced the prime-time television series “The Bachelorette,” as an example of classic tales such as “Romeo and Juliet,” and “Twelfth Night,” played out in a modern context.
In a testament to Shakespeare’s timelessness, Apodaca decided to take “Taming of the Shrew” to the Wild West, providing a backdrop she refers to as an ideal opportunity to make Shakespeare’s tale relatable in terms of U.S. history and the idea of the frontier, Manifest Destiny and the role of women in society. For Apodaca and many others, “Taming of the Shrew” is largely a story about women’s rights, and she and her cast intend to convey that message while also serving healthy doses of theatrical humor and entertainment.
Rene Neff, Island Shakespeare Festival board member and Langley City Council member, said in an email to The Record that the Shakespeare Festival could do more than just give residents and visitors a chance to experience two plays for free.
“I think it is one of the best ways we could support Langley and Whidbey’s future economic vitality. We don’t have industry on the island, we have to build on what we do have, and the arts is one of our best assets,” she said.
Performances are free, though a hat will be passed around post-performance for those who wish to donate. Visit islandshakespearefest.org for details.
“I’m just so excited to put on a great show for my hometown and to see old faces and new faces,” Lungren said. “I’m so excited to make [Shakespeare] open and available to everyone.”
All the world’s a different stage
Shows are at 5 p.m. in the theater tent behind Langley Middle School.
“Taming of the Shrew”: will open, on a proscenium stage, July 26-27 at 5 p.m.
“Richard III”: will open in repertory with “Taming of the Shrew,” Aug. 8-Sept. 7 on a round stage.