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Back yesterday from the annual pilgrimage to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; as usual, Ashland was gorgeous, the plays were intriguing (if not always successful), and the company -- a group assembled by the Whitman College Alumni Association (see [livejournal.com profile] whitman_alumni) -- engaging.

Per usual, the group saw five plays in three days; this year's roster included Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale and Two Gentlemen of Verona, Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, a version of Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, and the recent David Edgar adaptation of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.   In order to avoid epic-length post(s), I'm going to divide up comments on the plays (and a couple of very good dinners at new/newer Ashland dining spots) into several rocks.

Friday evening's play was The Winter's Tale -- directed by Libby Appel, the Festival's soon-to-retire artistic director, who'd previously directed a production of the same play in 1990.  That staging was particularly memorable for the Whitman College audience, as it featured Whitman graduate Patrick Page as the trickster Autolycus.

For the most part, the 2006 version -- presented in the Angus Bowmer (indoor) theater), was a strong production, though there were a couple of odd notes.  In radical contrast to the mostly-spare, vocally rich performances of the rest of the cast, the 2006 Autolycus gave a way-over-the-top physical slapstick performance that involved several audience members (he borrowed the purse of a lady  in the front row, stuffed it down his shirt, then glanced through it and plucked out a lipstick, complimented her on it, and dropped it back in before returning the purse).  The tone of that one characterization was totally inconsistent with anything else in the show, and so despite being wildly funny, it felt out of place. 

Appel also rearranged and reassigned dialogue to greatly strengthen the character of Paulina, giving her opening and closing lines to "bookend" the staging and endow Paulina with a storyteller's or narrator's status; she was also given the lines normally assigned to the separate character of Time.  The device was interesting, but the delivery in some of the narrative segments felt a bit too artificial -- the actress was considerably more effective when she was playing wholly in character.

Notwithstanding the directorial choices, the production overall was one of the most intriguing Winter's Tales I've seen -- among other things, it managed to maintain a degree of tonal consistency between the first and second halves of the play that I don't think I've ever seen before.  A very solid presentation, arguably  (if narrowly) the best of the five shows we saw.

To be continued....

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