OREGON SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL-2011 in Ashland always a winner
Open to the sky, the outdoor Elizabethan Stage seats 1,200 people. For the 2011 season the Festival presents William Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part Two and Love's Labor's Lost and Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. Featured in the photo at left is the 2006 set and ensemble in Cyrano de Bergerac. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
OREGON SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL (OSF); P.O. Box 158, 15 South Pioneer Street, Ashland, OR 97520. 541-482-2111 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 541-482-2111 end_of_the_skype_highlighting, 541-482-0446 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 541-482-0446 end_of_the_skype_highlighting fax, 541-482-4331 box office or www.osfashland.org.
Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) was established in 1935 and has been in continuous operation, with the exception of the WW II years 1941-1946. It now presents an eight-month season of 11 plays – four by Shakespeare and seven by classic and contemporary playwrights – in rotating repertory in three theatres: the outdoor Elizabethan Stage (seats 1,190), the Angus Bowmer Theatre (seats 601), and the intimate New Theatre (seats 270-360). OSF employs approximately 450 theatre professionals and has received many prestigious awards, and has a reputation for excellence in their acting and production staff. This year the matinees, with the exception of one play begin at 1:30 pm rather than 2 pm.
The Elizabethan Stage includes two Shakespearean plays, Henry VI Part 2 and Love’s Labor Lost and a stunning, hilarious world premiere adaptation of Pirates of Penzance by artistic director Bill Rauch. The Angus Bowmer Theatre is graced with Measure for Measure, The Imaginary Invalid and August:Osage County. Concept versions of Shakespeare’s plays are the current fashion, as it has been for more than a couple years, and this year OSF disappoints with Measure for Measure (Bill Rausch directing) that uses a magnificent scenic design utilizing rear stage projections thus keeping the entire production interesting. As luck would have it, my seat mate at Measure was Rachel Hauck, scenic designer for Henry VI Part 2 and in house designer for the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center who praised David Weiner’s video/projections. The non-Shakespearean plays outshine Shakespeare making the trip to Ashland a rewarding journey.
At the intimate New Theatre, director Amanda Dehnert’s Julius Caesar concept production casts Vilma Silva as Julius Caesar and clothes the cast in grunge. The acting is superb with Shakespeare’s words resonating in this engrossing superiorly acted play. The headline for the upcoming review will read, “A Bloody Good Show” that will reflect the only negative criticism. The Language Archive, the other play at the New Theatre has difficulty creating interest with the over-produced setting overpowering a minor premise with confusing non linear play construction. But, if Language were to continue through the remainder of the season the acting of Richard Elmore and new-comer to Ashland Judith Delgado, would demand a visit.
The must see plays are The Imaginary Invalid, Pirates of Penzance, and Julius Caesar. To Kill a Mockingbird is only playing until July 3 and is the most popular play in this season and almost makes the must see list for its scenic design and staging. Speaking of scenic design, as mentioned above, if you can appreciate Bill Rauch’s concept version of Measure for Measure, it too is worth a visit to admire the video projections that keep Shakespeare’s “problem play” interesting.
The Imaginary Invalid at OSF IS UTTERLY MAD.
Even though the OSF production of The Imaginary Invalid takes Molière’s humor to the nth degree and hysterically denigrates the profession of which I belong, the recommendation of it being a must see play must be upheld. If you had the pleasure of seeing the OSF production of The Servant of Two Masters, adapted by Oded Gross and Tracy Young, you now have the pleasure of splitting your sides with laughter on their latest adaptation of a Molière farce. With the Obama Health Care Bill taking center stage in the upcoming 2012 election, it is a perfect vehicle to take Saturday Night Live type pot shots at every aspect of medicine, and they do.
Most interesting, the program lists the age recommendation “best enjoyed by playgoers over 13 and up who can handle the potty humor, yucky medical remedies, and a few instances of suggestive gesture, innuendo and costuming.” It’s OK for the pre-tweeners to stay for the fantastic musical prolog that has nothing to do with the plot except to set the time and place.
This production is set in 1960’s Paris and is the story of Argan (David Kelly), a wealthy hypochondriac who sees the advantages of marrying his youngest daughter Angelique (Kimbre Lancaster) to a soon to be doctor. This would reduce his medical bills and there are many. Alas, Angelique is in love with Thomas (Daisuke Tsuji). As Argan insists "I'm too busy staying alive -- I don't have time to experience life!" His servant Toinette attempts to convince the hypochondriacally bent Argan that he is well and must be more a father to his children. Argan’s money obsessed second wife Beline (Terri McMahon) consorting with Argan’s lawyer (U. Jonathan Toppo) attempting to steal the family money. McMahon is a hoot and a holler and Toppo would surely injure himself with his many pratfalls. Well, maybe not since he is resident fight director for most of the plays!
Accompanying original songs, there are jokes galore, terrible-marvelous puns, bawdy exchanges, eye-popping costumes/grand set (both by Christopher Acebo) allowing campy choreography (Ken Roht) that never ceases. Although David Kelly rarely leaves his wheel chair his ability to rule the stage is legion and is a perfect foil for K. T. Vogt’s Toinette. You will get to love Neil Geisslinger's depiction of a hunchbacked, pigeon toed yet beautiful older daughter Louison.
Argan warns, "This is not a fairy tale or a massage parlor -- not everyone gets a happy ending," Not true, the good guys, even Argan’s brother Beralde (macho man Jeffrey King) who gets to cross off the last “to do” on his bucket list before going to the great beyond, reach a happy ending.
AUGUST:OSAGE COUNTY IS DRAMATIC DYNAMITE
You are fortunate to discover that August: Osage County is playing through November 5 thus giving you plenty of time to take the scenic trip from the Bay Area to see this riveting dramatic must see production at OSF. It combines brilliant writing, acting, directing and staging that will leave you awestruck all through its three and half hour (with two intermissions) classical three act format. We have come to expect dysfunctional characters from Tracy Letts, author of Killer Joe and Bug that received recent block buster staging by Marin Theatre Company and SF Playhouse respectively. In Osage County the physical violence is at a minimum and the mental trauma is much more harrowing but Letts intersperses all this with a great deal of humor as he fleshes out the characteristics of three generations of the Weston family in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.
After first playing at the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago, it moved almost intact to Broadway winning the 2008 Pulitzer Prize plus 5 Tony Awards. OSF has assembled a terrific cast under the superb direction of Christopher Liam Moore. The spectacular set (Neil Patel) of a cut-away view of the two level Weston homestead allows Moore to deftly move the actors around, often staging two or more scenes simultaneously thus emphasizing the interrelated action of each.
Author Letts is a master of play writing construction and sets the tone in the opening scene with patriarch Beverly Weston (Richard Elmore) interviewing a young woman as potential housekeeper. He is a published poet and at one time a respected professor. The cagey Elmore imbues the role with witty pathos matter-of-factually describing the state of his marriage with, “My wife takes pills, and I drink. That’s the bargain we’ve struck” as his wife Violet, (magnificent Judith-Marie Bergan) stumbles down the stairs in a drugged stupor hinting the potential evil she will wrought.
Three adult daughters return, ostensibly to comfort their mother and to help solve the mystery of their father’s mysterious disappearance. Violet hardly needs comforting as she hurls drug-induced acid truths that burn the souls of her progeny. Resentful, unmarried middle daughter Ivy (Terri McMahon) who lives nearby has for years had the unenviable task of looking after her parents when the others moved away, is the first to be subjected to Violet’s vitriolic outbursts. Oldest pre-menopausal daughter Barbara (Robyn Rodriguez)) arrives with her recently estranged husband Bill Fordham (Bill Geisslinger) and their pot smoking 14 year old daughter, Jean (Savannah Edson). Scatterbrain youngest daughter Karen (Kate Mulligan) brings her unsavory fiancé Steve (Jeffery King) with her. Violet’s abrasive sister Mattie Fae (Catherine E. Coulson), her much maligned husband Charlie (Tony DeBruno) and their son “Little” Charlie (Brent Hinkley) complete the family circle.
The home becomes a maelstrom of resentment with bitter recriminations, yet author Letts ably weaves unexpected humor amidst the turmoil of alcoholism, drug addiction, incest, adultery, and pedophilia. Bergan seizes the role of Violet by the throat and is magnificent with a nuanced yet harrowing demeanor. She is matched by the superb performance of Robyn Rodriquez as Barbara metamorphosis into the mirror image of her mother. She has the best second act curtain line I have heard in years. She slams Violet into a chair and blasts, “I’m in charge here now” and you’d better believe she is.
Except with the weak performance of only one character, the 13 member cast gives a true ensemble performance. Tony DeBruno becomes an unexpected tower of strength finally challenging his domineering wife Mattie Fae, bringing spontaneous applause. Kate Mulligan as Karen deserves an extra accolade for her extended second act “discussion” with Barbara that is a brilliant monolog defining her character.
The twists and turns keep coming throughout all three acts and this play is dramatic dynamite deserving all the honors it has received and will continue to receive during its OSF run.
JULIUS CAESAR IS A BLOODY GOOD SHOW
Expect the unexpected when you journey to Ashland and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. This time the unexpected twist is the casting the ever popular high-powered actor Vilma Silva in the role of Julius Caesar. It really should not be unexpected since males played female roles in Shakespeare’s era and OSF is noted for its non-traditional casting. Yes, it is another concept production but this time Director Amanda Dehnert has a cast that makes Shakespeare’s lines resonate allowing the grungy costumes (it is not set in a specific time frame), bare stage and bloody excess of the murder scene to be ignored.
The ability of absolute power to corrupt is a major theme in this play and is a reflection of our own time. The present day conflicts of mob rule and the killing of tyrants to gain freedom are as rampant today as they were during ancient Rome. Although the title suggests Julius Caesar is the main character it truly Brutus who is the lightening rod that carries the action.
In this stripped down version lasting only 1 hour and 45 minutes with intermission the non-stop action, escalating treachery and its violent aftermath grips the audience into rapt attention. The casting of Vilma Silva as Caesar adds very little to the quality cast with Jonathan Haugen giving a multilayered interpretation to the pivotal role of Brutus. You can feel his tortured reluctance to join Cassius (Gregory Linington) who has “a lean and hungry look.” Danforth Comins as Mark Anthony bellows "Cry 'Havoc' and let slip the dogs of war" and gives a devastating sinister patina to the infamous eulogy at Caesar’s funeral.
There are two directorial conceits that are disturbing to this reviewing. One is the buckets of blood used for Caesar’s murder that actually brought audience laughter. Two, keeping the ghost of Caesar hanging around observing the destruction after her death fragmented the physical activity of the rebellion and fight scenes. Never-the-less, this Julius Caesar is a superb production.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD AT OSF IS FLAWED
It was 50 years ago, that Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize novel was published and the injustice to Southern blacks imbedded in her written words are brought to life on the on the Angus Bowmer Theatre stage. In 1965 Christopher Sergel, owner of Dramatic Publishing Company, obtained permission from Lee to do an adaptation that first opened in England in 1970. Since then the play has been widely produced with a yearly staging in Harper Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. OSF’s production boasts a top-notch cast with the competent Mark Murphy in the lead role of Atticus Finch.
In the book, the story is told through the words of young Scout (Kaya Van Dyke)and expanded through the eyes of brother Jem (Braden Day) and visiting neighbor Dill (Leo Pierotti). In this version, the narrator is the adult Scout (Dee Maaske) who weaves in and out of the action unobtrusively mingling with and at times taking part in the story. Black man Tom Robinson (Peter Macon) is falsely accused of beating and raping a white girl named Mayella Ewell (Susannah Flood) when in actuality her drunken father Bob Ewell (Howie Seago) has inflicted the bruising. It is a stirring denunciation of Southern racial injustice in the 1930s.
The secondary story involves the children’s fascination with the mysterious withdrawn neighbor Boo Radley (David Salsa). At the trial Mayella and her uneducated and violent father perjure themselves only to be discredited by Atticus yet the all-male jury finds Tom guilty. Vengeful Bob Ewell, in a drunken rage attacks Scout and Jem on Halloween night and is killed by the gentle reclusive Boo.
Dee Maaske gives a solid performance placing a distinctive stamp on the role of narrator, moving gracefully in and out of the limelight adding depth to the story line without intruding on actors moving about her. Kaya Van Dyke as young Scout has a ring of truth and Braden Day as Jem almost matches her ability. However, among the children, it is the little Leo Pierotti who is the scene stealer as Dill in the role fashioned after Truman Capote, a dear friend of Harper Lee. Susannah Flood handles her purpose using sign language to communicate with Howie Seago and the as the insecure Mayella. She gives a heart wrenching denunciation from the witness box. Seago as Bob Ewell exudes venom in his attack on Jem, verifying the fact you would not want to meet him in a dark alley. Finch’s housekeeper Calpurnia played with dignity by Isabell Monk O’Connor does justice to the line that gives the book its title. “Mockingbirds don’t eat anyone’s garden, nor do they do any other harm and to kill one would be an outright sin.”
Scenic and projection designer David Gallo has created a stunning minimalist set of raked wooden planks stretching from the apron to the stage rear screen with ingenious projection shadows and even silently brings Boo’s house forward in three dimensions including a porch. And here’s the rub. The staging is so spectacular it overshadows the heart of the story. That being said, Mockingbird has been a sellout and the most popular play during the Spring Season. The run ends July 3.
The reviews of productions at the Elizabethan Theatre will soon follow.
Kedar K. Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com