As promised, my two reviews. I don't know when these will run in the paper, but here they are pre-paper. Anna Grace also reviewed two of the OSF shows, I believe for this week's paper as well.
Anthony Heald has won some plum parts in recent years at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival — Shag/Shakespeare in Equivocation and Shylock in last year’s Merchant of Venice. The actor finds himself once again at the center of a thickly layered, ambiguous play, this one about the nature of power and religious belief.
Shakespeare wrote Measure for Measure, the festival’s Illuminations guide explains, just before he began writing the four major tragedies (Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear).
Certainly the script flirts with both comedy and tragedy as Heald’s Duke of Vienna (“an American town,” the description reads in the playbill) pretends to leave town just to find out what his deputy, Angelo (René Millán), will do with his power.
Turns out Angelo doesn’t know much about mercy. The town’s full of pimps, whores and kids who sleep together before they’re married, and Angelo’s determined to clean it up.
Here, you might want to know that the setting for the play is 1975, and the city of Vienna sits near the Mexico/U.S. border. The plot includes the Duke disguised as a friar; the attempts of Isabela, a novice nun (Stephanie Beatriz, quite good in a role tremendously different from last year’s Maggie the Cat), to free her brother Claudio (Frankie J. Alvarez) from the death sentence Angelo gives him for getting his girlfriend (Alejandra Escalante) pregnant; and a bunch of side plots involving Lucio (Kenajuan Bentley, who’s sublimely masterful in the comic role), Mistress Overdone (Cristofer Jean) and Pompey (Ramiz Monsef, also quite good).
The self-proclaimed incorruptible Angelo finds himself intensely attracted to Isabela, and he tells her if she gives him her body, he may save her brother’s life. Can the Duke save everyone? Should he? And what about his own weaknesses? Go to the messy, multi-layered, complex production and let Las Colibri — a mariachi band – and Clint Ramos’ set transport you to the halls and brothels of power, and discover the answer for yourself.
George (Rex Young) implores Emma (Susannah Flood) to return to the language archive. Photo: David Cooper.
What Can’t Be Said, What Must Be Said
Dead languages pile up and spill over the set of The Language Archive, each towering stack of boxes threatening to bury their archivist in the tapes and transcripts of loss.
In Julia Cho’s recent play, men and women can’t communicate and can’t quite figure out why. The script mixes funny, touching, realistic, heartstring-tugging, clichéd, whimsical and absurd in a two-act package that uses irony as a blunt weapon (language archivist George, played with a smart sweetness by Rex Young, speaks many language but can’t communicate with his wife — get it?) but that often redeems itself through painfully, awkwardly tender moments.
The plot as such consists of yearning from George, his wife Mary (Kate Mulligan, who’s marvelous) and his besotted assistant Emma (Susannah Flood, whose gawky/cute mannerisms work well for this character). Add a bit of the “our elders from faraway villages aren’t perfect but impart wisdom to us” trope, as the last two speakers of Elloway (Richard Elmore and Judith Delgado) find meaning at the end of their lives and the life of their language; mix in a few set pieces in train stations, bakeries and language classes and let rise.
Delgado, a newcomer to the festival, stands out as the language teacher, but the entire cast compels a surprisingly strong warmth, wringing it from their characterizations rather than the script itself. Still, what with the occasional poetic flight of fancy from George, a marvelous smell (how did you cue that, OSF?) at just the right time, jokes about the Dutch facility with languages and the palpable sadness underlying every bit of the show, The Language Archive satisfies for a couple of hours in the immediacy of the New Theatre.
It's morning in the New Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and in a few minutes, Artistic Director Bill Rauch and Executive Director Paul Nicholson will hit the scene (I think, though I also see Lue Morgan Douthit, director of literary development and dramaturgy here. So I'll launch the live blog and pop in a few photos from time to time ...
Why hello there, Eugene!
Anna Grace and I are at the opening weekend of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
I believe reviews of the four plays will be in the paper on March 3, but I'll post mine here ASAP as well.
Ashland had a freak winter storm — and I mean it was ONLY in this area; it started at milepost 35 — just as I was driving in yesterday, and that has made the streets somewhat treacherous (I wiped out and watched others wipe out as well), but it's also lovely and sunny and bright with snow on the hills and mountains around Ashland. Despite the stock photo from the festival, there are no roses just now.
The festival's media relations person, Amy Richard, told me yesterday that she couldn't remember it ever snowing on opening weekend. As a former Midwesterner, I realize that snow in February might not sound OMG CRAZEEE, but in Western Oregon, unless you're up in the mountains, snowstorms don't happen that often. So anyway, winter wonderland-ishness has made Ashland even cuter than it usually is.
Claudio (Frankie J. Alvarez) entreats his friend Lucio (Kenajuan Bentley) to go to his sister. Behind him, his pregnant fiancee Juliet (Alejandra Escalante) waits with the prison guard (Tyrone Wilson). Photo: David Cooper.
Look like a '70s cop show? That's right: It's Shakespeare.
Last night, I attended Measure for Measure, directed by OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch. I've found Rauch's direction at the OSF somewhat uneven — liked his Two Gentlemen of Verona, thought the Romeo and Juliet was adequate at best, loved Clay Cart (though Anna certainly did not) — but the Music Man of 2009 and last year's Hamlet pointed the way for this production of Measure for Measure, which surprised and delighted me almost from beginning to end. The strolling mariachi band (all women, in case you were wondering), the splendidly flashy performance of Kenajuan Bentley, the understated but powerfully appealing "good girl" played by Stephanie Beatriz (Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof last year; cloistered goodie-goodie apprentice nun this year ... whoa) and just so much more — it was both spectacle and a thickly layered, emotionally complex piece. I'll get to Anthony Heald's Duke in the review.
One more picture first:
We head off to To Kill a Mockingbird this afternoon (Anna's just getting into town as I type this) and Imaginary Invalid tonight. You can follow me on Twitter for more frequent updates, but I'll also try to post some pix/thoughts between the two plays later today.
Well, there's no room in print this week for my reviews of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's last two plays of the season (seven others are still running; I'll link to reviews below), so I'm throwing up a quick post about both of them.
We left Eugene around 9:45 on Saturday morning and still had enough time in Ashland to eat the genius salad bar from the Ashland Food Co-op (I always forget that Ashland has a local sales tax on food — shocking! Me to the cashier: "You can tell the Oregonians from the Californians by who freaks out about tax, right?" Cashier: "Unh hunh, for sure."), snag the tix, run into Bonnie Bettman-McCornack and her husband Kevin (also going to the Bowmer), throw back some caffeine and get to my seat before the 1:30 pm start of Throne of Blood.
Throne of Blood has so many visually breaktaking moments, I'm not sure I can begin to describe them. So I'm sprinkling photos throughout.
Two things, Friday peeps!
1. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is having a COSTUME SALE.
Want somma this? (Well, not this; but things from other years>?) The deets:
Saturday, August 7th 9:00am-3:00pm
Parking Lot of 255 Helman St. #4 , Ashland (Corner of Hersey & Helman)
• Period costumes, vintage and contemporary clothing • Thousands of pieces from years of shows • Prices from $1 - $100 • All prices FIRM • All sales AS-IS • All sales FINAL • CASH or LOCAL CHECK ONLY • No early birds please • One day only
Pretty cool, no? Did you know that in Eugene, the go-to costume place is the Very Little Theatre? That's right! Eighty-one years in the biz will get you a lot of costumes. (I'm going there tonight. By the way, if you read in our calendar that you can buy tix online for VLT, we're sorry and we're wrong: it's 541-344-7751 for tix.)
Ennnnyway, I see Ashland pilgrimage ahead! Are you up for it, Eugene?
2. I decided to clean out some files and declutter my office. In the process, I found about a gazillion old playbills from things I've reviewed. And I thought, "Why not create a searchable, online database of Eugene performances, performers, directors, crew, etc.?"
It's in its infancy right now, but I'm hoping to work with a smart database person, local theaters, other media people etc. so that the Eugene-Springfield-Cottage Grove etc. area can have the kind of searchable info, maybe with bios, that I find on the OSF Ashland site whenever I need to know about the actors.
Lisa (Terri McMahon) tries to explain the status of her play to the audience. Photo by Jenny Graham
A Quasi-Hit and a Miss
Two more openers at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival
by Suzi Steffen and Anna Grace
Sometimes, It’s Hard to Get Well
by Suzi Steffen
“It’s not even a first draft!” huffed a 60-something man in a cowboy hat as we filed out of the 95-minute New Theatre production of Lisa Kron’s Well. “MAYBE there's enough material for one or two one-acts! With lots of drafts!”
To my other side, a middle-aged woman said to her friend, “Wasn’t that wonderful? Wasn’t that moving? Tears were streaming down my cheeks.”
Ann (Dee Maaske) finds herself onstage as "an example" in her daughter's play. Photo by David Cooper
All righty, then. What is Well? Is the Tony-award-winning play a solo performance piece (with a few other actors) as Lisa (originally played by the playwright; at OSF, played by Terri McMahon) and her mother (Dee Maaske) discuss? Is it about her life, her mother’s life, sickness in the form of many allergies, integration in a formerly white neighborhood, Lisa’s selective memory, her mother’s ability to charm her friends and make her insane? Maybe. Certainly it concerns the bonds that tie Lisa to her mother and the shorthand she’s conceived in her N.Y. life for describing her childhood home in East Lansing, Mich. “I got well,” she says, explaining that she also suffered from allergies but was somehow able to move on.
Any now-coastal folk who have moved from the Midwest or urbanites who left the concerns of their parents and grandparents behind will recognize the shifting, and rather shifty, way Lisa describes her mother and her mother’s house. The set, by Richard L. Hay, beautifully presents a cluttered but extremely organized living room, complete with the mother’s recliner and well-organized files about her work to integrate the neighborhood when Lisa was little.
Lisa’s frustration and anger with her mother’s inability to get better, her blithe statements about getting in touch with her body through yoga and her fear of her mother’s vulnerability, make the piece uncomfortably real, as do the moments when inhabitants of the allergy clinic talk about being tired of being sick and wanting to get better, but not having that chance.
Alarmingly, characters make the same analogy about health and sickness — people who are healthy imagine sickness as something laid on top of their health — that Lisa’s mother makes about her white self imagining what it’s like to be black. Much of the play interrogates the playwright’s memory, and some of that interrogation works wonders. But the final scene, in which Lisa reads a note that supposedly will reveal some of the true nature of her mother, doesn’t work at all Both McMahon, who’s otherwise decent in the role, and the script (the note/speech is less than insighful) fall flat, leaving the ending surprisingly dull after a fabulous, energetic beginning and an engaging middle portion. Who’s the play's intended audience, I wonder, especially after hearing the post-show comments. I suspect that daughters of any adult age may find this play moving. Well deals with huge issues, in too short a time, and it’s a mostly one-woman show without the woman who premiered it a few years ago. But it's chewy, touching on challenging relationships and how we decide we've grown up.
More Charm School, Please
By Anna Grace
The Jane Austen bandwagon has been full to overflowing within these last few years with poorly wrought sequels, modern interpretations and even vampires. While Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan’s streamlined stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice saves us from the gross imaginings of some of those efforts, it lacks the charm and richness that make the book so satisfying.
The pace is dizzying, skimming through the story by hitting on mere snippets of its most important scenes. The quick succession of action and characters made it necessary for audience members to be familiar with the plot; it would have been difficult to understand the story if they didn’t.
Elizabeth Bennet (Kate Hurster) rejects Mr. Darcy's (Elijah Alexander) proposal.
Photo by David Cooper
But as someone intimately familiar with the book, I found the breakneck speed of this play lacking. The play feels less like the wonderful, charcter-driven romance and more like a conglomeration of the book’s greatest lines.
Despite this atmosphere of extreme haste, the romantic scenes are swoon-worthy, due largely to Elijah Alexander’s soulfully conflicted Mr. Darcy. Alexander’s presence seems able to slow time as action swirls around him and the audience watch him fall in love with Elizabeth (Kate Hurster.) Of the other characters I can only say they didn’t have enough time, the worst case being Mark Murphey as Mr. Bennet, who was only allowed to walk on stage, deliver a famous line and exit thereafter.
The set, an empty ballroom occasionally enlivened by a few chairs or a piano bench, and the beautiful costumes were not enough to hold the production together. I did not find myself delighted by Austen’s wit and social satire, nor did I enter her world; in this production, I was merely reminded of it.
The dudes who will be delivering the news on Sunday morning:
Paul Nicholson, OSF's exec director, left, and Bill Rauch, OSF's artistic director
This live blog will go, er, live (assuming that I can get OSF wireless access this year) at about 11 am on Sunday, Feb. 28.
Last year's update took place in a depressed economic climate, with cutbacks at every turn and expectations for low ticket sales.
After the incredibly good news of last year's attendance, what will they say this year? It IS the 75th Anniversary of the OSF (take the Backstage Tour to find out more about that), which, well, it's amazing. Yesterday freelancer Anna Grace and my partner and I were discussing what a well-oiled machine the OSF is. "The artistic director doesn't have to do much of anything, and the machine would keep going for a while," we decided.
But that's not the style of an artistic director, and I think we see the imprint of Bill Rauch in a variety of ways (some of which we'll talk about during the live blog, I'm sure). Please feel free to comment on and ask questions about the OSF during the live blog! I'll try to convey those questions to Rauch or Nicholson.
You can log in below using Twitter or Facebook, or you can just use your name.I am unlikely to pass on any anonymous questions.
Elizabeth Bennet (Kate Hurster) takes refuge in her book while visiting the Bingley estate. Photo by David Cooper
Mr. Bennet (Mark Murphey) brings news to his daughters, from left, Elizabeth (Kate Hurster), Kitty (Kimbre Lancaster), Mary (Christine) and Jane (Nell Geisslinger). Photo by Jenny Graham
More here, following the jump!