Macbeth (Angus Bowmer theater)
Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred shillings. This was mystifyingly, stunningly off-key, and darned near un-listenable. Watchable, yes -- listenable, no. Someone apparently confused "loud" with "convincingly intense", such that (a) virtually every line was shouted to a degree that shut down most efforts at characterization, and (b) my parents, who regularlyuse the Festival's offered assisted-listening headsets, found themselves constantly adjusting the volume to avoid having their eardrums blasted during the really loud bits. I have to blame the director for the wooden performances, as these actors have been far, far better in other shows (this year's Macbeth was last year's Othello, in a production that may have been the single best Shakespeare performance I've seen in 35 years, not excluding the Denzel Washington Julius Caesar on Broadway awhile back). I'm astonished; the high school production of Macbeth I saw last fall shines by comparison -- which should be taken as a genuine compliment to the student cast, and a sharp wakeup call to the OSF production.
Paradise Lost (Bowmer)
Not the Milton story, but a play by Clifford Odets dating to 1935, about an extended family coping with the Depression in general and the collapse of the characters' various business endeavors in specific. The Festival's extended selection process is such that the show must have been chosen about two years ago, and accidentally became much more timely as the production process advanced. It's well acted and technically executed, but where a number of my fellow tour-goers found it compelling, I just couldn't get interested in the characters and have some issues with the script.
Don Quixote (Elizabethan stage)
I have not read the Cervantes novel (and curiously, couldn't find a copy in either the Tudor Guild or the local general bookstore), but this adaptation was amusing and cleverly executed, if a trifle rambling at times. Then again, that's a criticism I've heard leveled at the original, and here the production is livened by liberal use of animal puppets, a vintage tricycle masquerading as a donkey, and much other amusing stage business. (My father notes that Rocinante's front half was played by an Equity actor, whereas Rocinante's rear half apparently hasn't earned his Equity card yet.) Light as air-popped popcorn, but good fun for all that.
Much Ado About Nothing (Elizabethan stage)
An excellent production, nominally costumed and set-designed as a mid-20th-century Tuscan garden piece but otherwise mostly traditional in language and execution, including uniformly excellent diction and line-delivery. Highlights are a properly authoritative Dogberry and an amazing feat of stunt acting by Benedick during the Big Eavesdropping Sequence that must be seen to be believed (and is too cleverly sprung for me to spoil it here). Suffice to say that if you land front row seats for this show, be prepared for the unexpected.
Herewith the heads-up for Seattlefolk: after this world-premiere production finishes its Ashland run, it's coming to Seattle Rep for a month (Nov. 18 to Dec. 19). Reserve your tickets as soon as the box office will allow it. This play is dense, intense, occasionally brutally graphic, and an absolute must-see for Shakespeare buffs, British-history buffs, and theater buffs in general -- but should be nearly as compelling even for general audiences. Anthony Heald as "Shag" (William Shakespeare) is wrangling with prime minister Robert Cecil (Jonathan Haugen) over a propaganda piece Cecil wants written about the 1605 "Gunpowder Plot". Four of the six-member ensemble (Haugen among them) triple and quadruple roles as plotters, members of the King's Men, King James himself, and various others; there's also a subplot involving Shag's relationship with daughter Judith, whose twin died at age 11. Allusions to modern situations (Guantanamo Bay, anyone?) are clearly intended but never intrusive, and playwright Bill Cain weaves a relentlessly paced script. Ashland audiences of late are much too quick to offer standing ovations, but this got the fastest standing ovation I've ever seen -- and deservedly so. [One caveat: this is compelling drama, but its view of the Gunpowder Plot is not necessarily reliable history. Then again, neither are Shakespeare's own history plays....]