djonn: (woods)
2016-08-14 10:49 am

Ashland 2016: Twelfth Night

Ninety-nine percent of this year's production of Twelfth Night at OSF is sheer genius.  The set design for its nominal 1930s Hollywood transposition is clever in all the right ways, nearly all the performances are exceptional, and the comic swordfight between Sir Andrew and Viola-as-Cesario gets the single funniest execution I've seen in the 40+ years I've been attending the festival.  (Clearly we'd best not ask how many calla lilies they've gone through since the run started.)

And then we get to the twin-revelation scene, and the magic evaporates.

Now back in 2008, an OSF production of Comedy of Errors attempted the daring stunt of casting one (count him, one) actor in the role of both Antipholuses (Antipholi?), and likewise one (count again, one) actor in the role of both Dromios.  What's more, they made the stunt work -- a very clever bit of staging at the tail end of the play skated around the problem of producing both sets of twins onstage at once. Note to Christopher Liam Moore, director of this year's Twelfth Night: do not try this at home. Or at least if you're going to try it, commit to the premise and run with it.

It's not that Sara Bruner doesn't do a credible job of playing both Viola and Sebastian, though here she is merely very good in a cast where everyone else is outstanding.  Especially high marks go to Ted Deasy for a beautifully dry Malvolio, Danforth Comins for a hilariously high-strung Andrew Aguecheek (all the more remarkable given that Comins' other role this year is the Prince of Denmark himself), and Gina Daniels as Olivia, here imagined as an exotically sultry but reclusive film star.

Part of the problem is technological.  In absolute terms, the screen-projection trickery that allows Bruner to appear in both roles simultaneously is ingenious, and the execution is period-appropriate for the 1930s setting.  But it's also unfortunately primitive (or made to appear so) by comparison to modern film and television standards, and nothing in the run-up to the finale prepares the audience for what amounts to a left turn into pulp-era science fiction at exactly the wrong emotional moment.

More troubling yet, though, is what happens after the magic doubling effect is dismissed.  Bruner is left onstage as Viola/Cesario -- but in the very last moment, finds herself being treated as Viola by Orsino and Sebastian by Olivia, literally pulled in opposite directions at once.  In theory, this is obviously a nod to the questions of gender identity Shakespeare himself raises in the script...but as with the special-effects trickery, there's been no foundation laid for this interpretation of the character(s) anywhere in the preceding two hours.  One can certainly imagine, nowadays, a staging of Twelfth Night in which the "twins" are in fact two minds in one body, with the attendant gender-bending consequences -- but this is not that show.

And as a result, the last few seconds in which it tries to become that show fall absolutely, utterly flat.  Which is frustrating in the extreme, because in nearly every other respect this is a home-run production.

djonn: (bird)
2015-08-10 12:47 am

Ashland 2015: Much Ado About Nothing

On the one hand, Much Ado About Nothing is arguably* in the second tier of the Shakespeare canon, even if one is looking mostly at the comedies (Merchant of Venice, Taming of the Shrew, Midsummer Night's Dream, and Comedy of Errors being the best-known and most respected of those).   On the other, Much Ado has gotten a lot of attention in recent years, dating from the Kenneth Branagh film in 1993 to the much more recent (and very good) Joss Whedon version released in 2013.

This year's OSF staging falls somewhere between the two movies in atmosphere -- it has a Mediterranean visual style not unlike the Branagh film, but the execution is distinctly modern.  It's funny where it needs to be -- one of the best running gags has Rex Young's Dogberry zipping around on a Segway, and Christiana Clark makes an especially energetic Beatrice.  It's also provocative where it needs to be -- actress Regan Linton plays a wheelchair-bound Don John with credible bitterness, lending an intriguing dimension to the darker side of the play's storyline. 

The trouble is simply that while there's nothing really wrong with the production, it just doesn't sparkle as brightly as OSF's home-run shows of the current season -- it lacks the zip of Head Over Heels or Guys & Dolls, and can't match a play like Sweat on the social-relevance scale.  It's simply a very good staging caught among a handful of flat-out spectacular shows, and it can't help but feel a little bit overwhelmed by comparison.  For what it's worth, I'd count Much Ado as the slightly better show of the two Shakespeare plays we saw -- Antony & Cleopatra is a bit more unevenly executed. 

In terms of the weekend as a whole, though, this feels like one of OSF's strongest recent seasons, and I'd happily go back to catch several of the shows we missed on this visit (notably Pericles and The Count of Monte Cristo, though tickets for the former are reportedly very hard to come by at this point).

*Our nominal tour leader (an English professor from my alma mater) would argue with me about this.  She expressed the opinion several times during the tour that Much Ado is possibly Shakespeare's *best* comedy in terms of craft and characterization, which is one of the reasons she chose to have the group see it rather than the Festival's production of The Count of Monte Cristo on the outdoor Elizabethan stage.  Me, I'd have picked Monte Cristo....

djonn: Self-portrait (Default)
2015-08-09 01:26 am

Ashland 2015: Head Over Heels

Strictly speaking, in one respect I am totally the wrong target audience for Head Over Heels, as prior to viewing this musical I couldn't have told you that the Go-Gos were, in fact, a genuine (and highly successful) '80s rock group.  Nor, despite having been the archetypical liberal arts English major back in the day, had I taken more than a passing glance at any of the versions of Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia.  And if you'd told me that someone had decided to fuse the Arcadia and a whole catalog of Go-Gos music into a rock musical, I'd probably have asked you what you were smoking.

I am now here to tell you that someone has done exactly this, and that the result is, to apply an over-used but apt modern superlative, awesome -- and I use that term in its classic sense, of "something which inspires awe".  I should add that where theater is concerned, I am not easy to awe.  Specifically, the librettist for Head Over Heels is Jeff Whitty, perhaps best known as the father of the Tony-winning Avenue Q, which may go some way toward explaining why this show actually works.

I'm not even going to try to explain the plot (such as it is), except to observe that it is (a) in the broad general neighborhood of Shakespeare's more convoluted comedies and late romances -- it is perhaps not a coincidence that OSF is also producing Pericles Prince of Tyre this year -- and (b) also in the broad general neighborhood of the two stage adaptations of classic Marx Brothers movies OSF has produced recently.  What's of greater importance is the degree to which the show doesn't merely play with the metaphorical "fourth wall", but gleefully tunnels right through it into the audience.  And that's no metaphor -- John Tufts, as a classic Shakespeare-league Fool crossed with the Leading Player in Pippin (and this show's nominal master of ceremonies), spent part of the intermission strolling through the house, plopping briefly down in one of the best seats in the theater while talking casually to various audience members.  At least half the cast began the evening by stationing themselves at intervals throughout the aisles several minutes before curtain time; I realized this when I looked up from my playbill, noticed an eight-foot pool of purple skirt stretched across the concrete behind me, and realized that the animated (and entirely off-the-cuff) conversation I'd been overhearing from the next row back was taking place between one lady in the aisle seat and one of the principal female players.

And it only got wilder from there.  When curtain time did arrive, Tufts strode out to center stage and introduced himself -- both as himself and as his character -- then went on to do the same for several of the leading performers.  Then there was the Oracle of Delphi, who admitted that her gift of prophecy was made possible because she was reading ahead in the script.  (Yes, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem got there first in the original Muppet Movie, but Whitty and the Oracle -- later to be known as Linda -- promote the shtick from an amusing throwaway gag to a key plot and thematic point near the climax.)

What prompts the occurrence of awe, though, is that all of the Shakespeare-grade romantic foolery (including lots of gender-bending) and fourth-wall insanity is wrapped in a 24-karat Rock Musical soundtrack.  As I noted earlier, this was my very first encounter with Go-Gos music, and while '80s girl-group rock is not at all my usual beat, it was impossible not to be drawn in by the energy and vigor of the songs.  My only frustration is that the enthusiasm of the orchestra occasionally overrode the vocals during musical numbers, making it difficult to make out lyrics, but that was only an intermittent issue.

Verdict?  If you are a fan of any one subset of the source material (Whitty, Philip Sidney, Shakespearean comedy, rock musicals, etc.), this is a must-see.  And there may be a bonus bit of off-the-wall resonance for the genre-fiction fans in the gallery.  It occurs to me that Head Over Heels -- and the Go-Gos sound -- blends '80s rock and fantastical elements in a way that fans of Seanan McGuire's music may find especially appealing.  And in the reverse context, one of the more memorable performances in the show -- the role of Princess Pamela -- comes from actress Bonnie Milligan, whom I'd argue is a passable ringer for Seanan....

djonn: (raven)
2015-08-08 12:49 am

Ashland 2015: Antony & Cleopatra

Time once again for the annual Shakespeare Festival pilgrimage.  As usual, I'm visiting with a tour group from Whitman College (go, Fighting Missionaries!).  Not usual: my parents are sidelined this year owing to a (minor but perfectly mis-timed) health issue, so I am representing the family on my own.

The Friday night show was Shakespeare's Antony & Ceopatra, which we've seen (surprise) a time or two before -- most notably in 1993, when the then-artistic director was playing Antony and the tour group somehow managed to score front-row center seats, so that we got a row of Roman legionaries marching right along in front of us, close enough to step on stray candy wrappers and drip sweat onto our shoes.

I enjoyed this year's production, though I don't think it was the equal of the 1993 version.  The two best performers, I thought, were Derrick Lee Weeden as Antony and Jeffrey King as his follower Enobarbus.  I've liked Miriam Laube in other roles, but in this production Cleopatra comes off as too much a slave to her emotions rather than their mistress.  To be fair, it's likely this is as much the director's choice as Laube's -- that being OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch in this case.  I also recall the queen's handmaidens, especially Charmian, being more of a force in the earlier production, whereas in this one they were little more than scenery -- and disastrously costumed scenery at that.  [I am not alone in this last sentiment; our faculty tour leader allowed as how she could have made their outfits at home.]  Fortunately, the overall staging and costuming was much better, than that for the handmaids, and I'd count the production as a whole satisfying but short of being exceptional.
djonn: (raven)
2014-08-05 09:23 am

Ashland 2014: Three Bards, a tesseract, and an Oval Office

Back from our annual pilgrimage to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival -- as usual, well-stuffed with (mostly) very good theater.

First up this year was Richard III, a solid traditional production on the Elizabethan outdoor stage, with the bonus that Richard was/is played by fellow Whitman College graduate Dan Donohue. Dan graciously appeared after the performance at our tour group's discussion meeting to talk about the show.  I very much liked Dan's Richard -- played with a dry, self-assured charm and no prosthetics (the appearance of a withered, useless left arm was entirely physical trickery).  Others in the group correctly pointed out the strength of the female roles in this production -- amusingly, it turns out that Richard III, at least in this staging, easily passes the Bechdel test.

Next we had The Tempest, staged in the Bowmer theater on a spare but ingenious set (we learned later that some of the players referred to it as "the Dorito chip").  Everyone was very impressed with Miranda and Ferdinand, as well as with the rude comics and Caliban and with some of the clever special effects and props employed by Ariel. The major disagreement was over Prospero, played by Festival veteran Denis Arndt. I was greatly underwhelmed by what I saw as a weak imitation of Dumbledore or Gandalf, too much the kindly grandparent with no real gravitas, out of step with the rest of the production; our group's faculty guide thought Arndt did a good job of making Prospero accessible.  (Judging purely by the audience murmurs I heard on the way out of the theater, the "underwhelmed" crowd was in the majority.)

The group's third show was The Comedy of Errors in the Thomas theater (the newest, smallest performance space), which I am told may have been the strongest Shakespeare play of the weekend.  I skipped out on this, however, in favor of the Festival's brand new adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. Excellent Shakespeare notwithstanding, I'm very glad I did. On one hand, I have a number of reservations about the structure and design of the script; OTOH, the execution was mostly very good indeed, with a number of excellent performances (including Tempest's Miranda as Meg Murry and Dan Donohue as her father).  I will likely have more to say about this eventually, but it is a fascinating if flawed adaptation, and worth the viewing.

Sunday brought The Great Society and Two Gentlemen of Verona.  The former is the direct sequel to the Tony-winning All the Way, chronicling President Lyndon Johnson's second term in office, his struggles with Vietnam War policy, and his clashes with Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.  It's a powerful show with many superb performances, and moves briskly through its 3+ hour running time; whatever one's personal politics may be, this is a compelling drama and a thoughtful look at the history of that time.

By contrast, Two Gentlemen is mild-mannered and understated, perhaps this season's most conservative Shakespeare...except that it's presented by an all-female cast (well, almost all female; I believe that Picasso, the gorgeous and very patient St. Pyrenees dog playing Crab, may be a male).  Interestingly, the production makes no changes whatever to Shakespeare's language; it's simply that many of the women are playing male roles just as young men in Elizabethan times would have played the female roles -- and the staging pretty much ignores this, just as an Elizabethan cast would have ignored the reverse anomaly originally.  This got mixed reactions from our group; many viewers wanted more overt nods to one or another feminist sensibility.  My feeling is that that's a no-win scenario, and that the director's choice to play the script as straight as possible is the best possible way to show how timeless Shakespeare's stories really are -- even in what's regarded as one of his weakest plays.  I liked the production a great deal and thought it made a good conclusion to the weekend.

djonn: Self-portrait (Default)
2013-08-04 06:46 pm

Ashland 2013 - Taming of the Shrew

Where issues of sexual politics are concerned, this production of Shrew unabashedly takes its cue from Lucy Van Pelt’s perpetual duel with Charlie Brown – no matter how many times the offer is extended, nobody ever gets to kick that football.  For modern viewers, the text raises the issue over and over – and the present version executes it crisply and energetically, neither apologizing for it nor using stage business to undercut the dialogue.  Which isn’t, in the end, an unreasonable choice.  An honest rendering of Shakespeare’s text, after all, puts fewer barriers and complications in the way as viewers grapple with the play’s take on marriage and women’s issues, letting the play speak more or less for itself.

While the production nominally retains the play’s Italian setting, the specific rendering gives us a mid-20th century carnival boardwalk, complete with neon, primary-colored signs (“Welcome to Padua”), and a fast-food counter complete with roll-down steel curtain.  There’s also an onstage rock band cranking up musical energy, and the performances are similarly tuned – Kate (Nell Geisslinger) is the brunette Bad Girl, while Bianca  (Royer Bockus) is the squeaky-voiced blonde.  Ted Deasy’s Petruchio mixes more than a bit of Happy Days’ Fonzie with a touch of Elvis and a dash of Evil Knievel, aptly conveying the character’s self-assurance.  The show’s one direct nod to modern cultural sensibilities is the casting of African-American actors Wayne T. Carr and Tyrone Wilson as Lucentio and his father Vincentio, the former Bianca’s love interest; the players take just enough note of this to add texture to the play’s own comic potential without relying on undue stereotype.  There are a handful of other period-related anomalies, one involving Kentucky Fried Chicken and another involving a wickedly funny dueling-video moment between rival suitors Hortensio and Gremio (I’m fairly sure “Let’s zoom in just a skosh, shall we?” isn’t in the original Shakespeare), but for the most part the atmosphere is solidly grounded.

And it’s really a combination of that atmosphere and an emphasis on plot that drives this production, rather than character chemistry.  It isn’t that Deasy and Geisslinger lack chemistry; it’s simply that here, it’s the serial courtship of Kate and Bianca that gets the greatest focus, so that the show is more of an ensemble piece than one often finds in productions of Shrew.  You’ll find more thoughtful stagings than this one, but few with greater overall energy or brisker pacing.  I don't know that this is a genuinely stellar production, but it's a solid and watchable one.

djonn: Self-portrait (Default)
2013-08-04 01:16 am

Ashland 2013 - King Lear

I’ve seen a good many Lears in the years we’ve been visiting Ashland – medieval and modern, spare and opulent, willful and wan.  But I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite so accessible a King Lear as this year’s production.

Not coincidentally, this version is being staged in the Festival’s newest space – it’s finally been named the Thomas Theater, after several seasons of being called simply the “New Theater”.  It’s a small, highly reconfigurable black box – in this case, arranged in the round with just a few furnishings and props. But I’m not using “accessible” in its purely physical sense here, even though that’s part of the show’s success.  Nor am I thinking only of one of the Fool’s first scenes, in which a couple of audience members were briefly drawn into the stage business, though that’s part of it too.

Rather, this is perhaps the first iteration of Lear I’ve seen that seems to me to break unreservedly out of its Shakespearean shell and really connect with its audience on a personal level, irrespective of whether one is a theater buff, a Shakespeare scholar, or a literature geek.  The language is just as it’s always been, so it will satisfy loyalists, but the production as a whole assimilates the language and delivers a show that speaks more viscerally and directly than mere words can convey.

Two performances in particular drive the intimacy: Michael Winters (one of two actors alternating as Lear) is utterly compelling; he balances Shakespeare’s dialogue beautifully with a characterization of Lear that is at once vivid, powerful, and familiar – rarely will you see a Lear described as “charming”, but there are moments here where the word fits, and others where Winters’ delivery is as easy and conversational as you might hear around a card table at your neighborhood senior center.  And young Daisuke Tsuji is a bright, personable, and perceptive Fool, with all the energy of a street comic and the careful precision of a master sensei.  These two stand out among a uniformly excellent cast, and the staging is brisk and energetic, with performers ranging among the audience and into the rafters as the show progresses.  And for all its accessibility, the production doesn’t lose touch with the classic elements that make Lear one of Shakespeare’s most powerful tragedies.

Some of my drama-buff tourmates may disagree (we’ll find out later tonight), but I call this one of the best Lears I’ve seen, period, and not to be missed if the opportunity is available.

djonn: (crow)
2013-08-03 01:24 am

Ashland 2013 - Cymbeline

An interesting start to our weekend in Ashland this year: this summer, the wildfires in southern Oregon and far northern California have been unusually fierce – and the weather has been just exactly right to cause the air quality in the Ashland area to become unusually ghastly.  As a result, evening performances on the outdoor Elizabethan stage had been cancelled for the three nights just prior to our arrival.  Fortunately, matters improved markedly on Friday, and the scheduled presentation of Cymbeline went on as planned.

From a literary standpoint, Cymbeline is a tricky and difficult play – it’s perhaps the least known of the late cluster of Shakespeare’s romances, and the plot is unusually convoluted.  There’s a political thread (Britain is resisting a Roman demand for tribute), a family-betrayal thread (the princess’s wicked stepmother is trying to have both the princess and her would-be love interest murdered, and a sizeable number of other royal relatives have gone missing under assorted peculiar circumstances), and a more or less romantic thread (the princess escapes, disguises herself as a boy, and has a series of adventures before being reunited with her true love).  And there is a good deal of side action bridging and framing the three major plots.

The present production more or less turns this into a briskly paced action yarn with liberal dashes of black comedy and soap-operatic melodrama.  In a year where the Festival is also producing King Lear, this is arguably a good idea; there’s a lot of room to go very dark with Cymbeline, given what the script does to Imogen (the above-mentioned princess), but here we get something that owes more to Grimm and early Buffy the Vampire Slayer than it does to the television version of Game of Thrones.  And I’m not making these references idly; the production introduces light but overt supernatural elements into the staging, and the set design combines with some very impressive lighting wizardry to give the production a decidedly mythic flavor.

The performances are uniformly good if rarely spectacular; my favorites in this show are Al Espinosa as Cloten, who plays his villain with cheerful vigor, Dawn Lyen-Gardner as Imogen, who wins points for not overplaying her heroine, and Jack Willis as Roman general Caius Lucius, who takes Imogen under his wing (while she’s disguised as the boy Fidele).  Festival veteran Howie Seago gets the title role of Cymbeline, and the production does the Festival’s usual thoughtful and skillfully executed job of weaving Seago’s deafness into the fabric of the play.

All in all, this is a very good production if not a deep one…but again, in a year where it’s in rotation with an intensely staged King Lear (which we’ll be seeing next), the choice to play Cymbeline for melodrama is a reasonable one.  And as one of Shakespeare’s more rarely staged plays, it’s a show I can recommend catching if you visit Ashland this summer.
djonn: Self-portrait (Default)
2010-08-10 01:38 am

Ashland 2010: Run, don't walk to the box office....

Back tonight from the annual pilgrimage to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival via the usual college alumni tour.  A very good year, all told; of the five shows we saw, I count one as superlative, three as excellent, and one as...let's say adequate.  The notes are below, cut-tagged to avoid taking up excess screen space.  Note that the clips you see following each title come from the end, not the beginning, of my play-by-play remarks.

Friday night: Merchant of Venice )  While others in our tour group had issues with particular aspects, most of them seemed to like this staging better than I did.

Saturday afternoon: She Loves Me )This one gets six stars out of five from me; it's that good.  OSF audiences have been getting much too generous with their standing ovations in recent years, but this staging deserved the one it got from us.

Saturday evening: Hamlet )  All in all, this may be the most accessible staging I've seen in years while retaining every bit of the play's depth and nuance, and if it doesn't quite reach all the way to "brilliant", it doesn't miss that level by much.

Sunday afternoon: Throne of Blood )If you're mostly a Shakespeare buff (as I am), this is a fascinating and highly effective novelty.  If you are any sort of Kurosawa buff (as it happens, I'm not), this is likely a rare and not-to-be-missed work of wonder.  Note that once this show finishes its run in Ashland, it's traveling to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in NYC for a week's run in November, as part of the Next Wave Festival [this link loads a short video featuring Ping Chong].

Sunday evening: Henry IV, Part I )  I count this the best Shakespeare we saw during the weekend, albeit very narrowly over Hamlet.
djonn: Self-portrait (Default)
2010-05-17 06:46 pm

The book's the thing, wherein I'll catch the conscience....

This is not your average book recommendation -- but at least some of you may find the following of interest.

As many of this journal's readers are probably aware, I'm a Shakespeare buff.  I have seen most of the canon performed (including Pericles, but not yet Timon, King John, or Henry VIII), and I've read, albeit pretty lightly, in the newer scholarship.  So I was intrigued when I ran across a book recently entitled Contested Will by noted scholar James Shapiro, exploring the minefield that is the Great Authorship Question.

For those not familiar with said minefield: there's a sizeable body of individuals, including academics, noted actors, and Supreme Court justices, who believe that Stratfordian actor William Shakespeare did not write Hamlet, King Lear, or any of the other plays and poems commonly attributed to him -- instead, depending on whose theory one adopts, the Shakespearean canon may be the work of the Earl of Oxford, Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, or any of a host of others (or possibly by a collective of several different writers working in concert).  Of the rival candidates, the most prominent have been Bacon (now mostly discredited) and Oxford, also known as Edward de Vere (now the primary contender).

Contested Will isn't a strictly neutral examination of the controversy; Shapiro acknowledges up front that he's a Stratfordian, and spends roughly the last quarter of the book making his case.  But before he gets to that case, he delivers a concise yet detailed history of the authorship controversy itself, examining the larger context in which the leading alternative theories arose and the lives of the leading proponents of those theories -- notably Delia Bacon, Mark Twain, and Dr. Sigmund Freud.  Shapiro also looks at many of the key books and documents produced and cited by early anti-Stratfordians, discussing not merely their conclusions but the thought processes that lie behind them.  There's briefer but no less observant coverage of more contemporary developments, including televised "moot court" trials and Internet authorship-studies sites defending both sides of the conflict.  A thorough bibliographic essay provides extensive annotations and avenues for further reading.

The authorship debate being what it is (and judging by the online responses to published reviews), Contested Will isn't likely to convince devoted Oxfordians to abandon their cause -- though I'd recommend it to them nonetheless.  Some of the source material Shapiro examines is either quite recently discovered or notably obscure, and a few of his analytical barbs are aimed -- if gently -- at traditionalists as much as at anti-Stratfordians.  I'd also recommend the book to anyone with a broad interest in Shakespearean lore and literature; Shapiro's prose is engaging and his style is accessible, with little recourse to academic jargon. 

For those interested in exploring the authorship controversy more generally, two sites:
For the Stratfordian case: Shakespeare Authorship
For the anti-Stratfordian case: Shakespearean Authorship Trust

djonn: Self-portrait (Default)
2009-08-11 11:00 pm

Ashland 2009 - Seattle-ites take note!

A quick rundown on the five plays I saw this past weekend at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival:

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.

Equivocation (Bowmer)
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....]
djonn: Self-portrait (Default)
2009-08-11 01:08 am

And boy, are my arms tired....

While most of the rest of the world seems to have been at Worldcon, I was on my annual pilgrimage to Ashland, Oregon for a five-play weekend marathon at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  The short report: three winners, one take-it-or-leave-it, and one unexpected clunker. 

More detailed comments will follow as the week progresses; I should also have some notes on the ongoing Sony Reader Test Drive and possibly a further book review or two.  In the meantime, two links:

My comments from last week on Patricia Wrede's Thirteenth Child

A contest: if you have $100 to spare and the right culinary mindset, you can win a landmark Oregon restaurant

djonn: Self-portrait (Default)
2006-08-08 11:27 pm

Sunday in Ashland: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Who?

More contrasts awaited us for Sunday's shows.  The matinee was a fairly new adaptation of Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Read more... )

The evening's outdoor show, Two Gentlemen of Verona, began with an adventure in weather.  Read more... )
djonn: Self-portrait (Default)
2006-08-08 09:59 pm

We're off to see the Bard....

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 [ 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 --Read more... )