Suzi's Blog

Suzi Steffen is the Performing and Visual Arts Editor for the Eugene Weekly and an adjunct instructor at the UO's School of Journalism and Communication.
She can also be found on Twitter.

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.

Claudio (Frankie J. Alvarez) and Isabela (Stephanie Beatriz) are reunited and await the Duke's verdict (Ensemble). Photo: David Cooper.

Corrupting Power

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:

Claudio (Frankie J. Alvarez) and Isabela (Stephanie Beatriz) are reunited and await the Duke's verdict (Ensemble). Photo: David Cooper.

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.

Here we are again at the Mayor's Art Show opening ceremony and award show! At least I wasn't running late this year and should be able to check the program for correct spellings of artist names. Mood Area 52 is playing right now (at 5:33); artists, local luminaries and Hult Center folks abound. You can comment in the CoverItLive box below if you'd like! (But no personal attacks on me or the artists, or the mayor for that matter.)

Lady Asaji (Ako) plants doubt in Washizu's (Kevin Kenerly) mind about the loyalty of his best friend in OSF's Throne of Blood. Photo by Jenny Graham

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.

The opening moments provide intense drama, and for fans of Akira Kurosawa's 1957 film, an eerie echo of the movie's opening moments as well.

The Forest Spirit (Cristofer Jean) foretells the future of Washizu and Miki. Photo by Jenny Graham

Read the rest, and see a few more photos, after the jump!

Atmosphere pervades this Ping Chong-chosen, adapted and directed piece at the OSF. The gorgeous movements of the stage crew, the sound effects of the Forest Spirit (Cristofer Jean, whom I just enjoy so much), the intensely stylized (and, according to the fantastic booklet Illuminations, partly Noh-like) set changes and some of the acting ... damn. Ako, who plays the Lady Macbeth-like character Lady Asaji, kicked ass. The script sort of leaves her hanging, but on the other hand, it doesn't make her melodramatic the way Lady Macb has to be.

I don't intend this to be a full review, so I'll just paste in another photo.

Washizu (Kevin Kenerly, left) and Miki (Danforth Comins) arrive at the court after being summoned by Lord Kuniharu (Jonathan Haugen, center). Photo by Jenny Graham

But my god, this photo? It almost makes me cry. Danforth Comins (whom we got to hear in a "talk in the park" earlier this summer) plays the Banquo-like character, Miki (who has ambitions of his own) — you see it in his eyes, the friendship and love and fear. And Washizu, played by Kevin Kenerly, looks loyal and worried and afraid. Oh, the sadness and the beauty of this scene! WHOA.

Soooo, that was our afternoon play. 105 minutes, no intermission: PEE AHEAD OF TIME, PEOPLE. You do not want to leave this play. We ate in our hostel, the wonderful Ashland Commons (food we'd brought ourselves) and headed out to the evening play.

(We promptly ran into David Piercy, husband of Mayor Kitty Piercy, and soon the mayor herself, who was headed into Merchant of Venice. You can ask her about her experience on her Facebook page!)

Juan José (René Millán) adds to his history book after meeting Viola and Ben Pettus (Kimberly Scott, Rodney Gardiner). Photo by Jenny Graham

Earlier this year, I interviewed Alison Carey, who's in charge of getting together this American Revolution history cycle thing and who I think was the dramaturg for American Night: The Ballad of Juan José. I asked Carey questions about the full cycle, but even though she wanted me to ask about this play, I refused until after I'd seen it (I HAVE QUESTIONS NOW, ALISON! Call me. ;) ).

I've been studiously avoiding everyone else's reviews of this play. Everyone's! I've wanted to read so many, and I have a Google Alert set up for the OSF, so I KNOW THEY ARE OUT THERE, but ever since the Willamette Week's Ben Waterhouse accused the Portland Mercury's Alison Hallett of plagiarism because their reviews sounded similar, I've just NOT EVER looked at other people's reviews UNLESS I am quoting from them ... er ... I digress. Which is appropriate for this history-drenched, half-undirectable, half-sketch, wild and woolly story/process/THING of a play.

Kudos to all of the actors, who (with the exception of René Millán), play abour 4,000 frenetic & costume-changing parts apiece; and Millán's on stage the entire time anyway. Kudos to Culture Clash and director Jo Bonney, who condensed the crap out of U.S. history and tried real hard not to make this just a history lesson (it's the fever dream of Juan José, a legal immigrant who's about to take his citizenship test the next morning).

The ninja bunny scene slayed me; I haven't laughed so hard since Molly and I went to Portland to see Tom Lenk (fun Merc story here). But much of the time I wasn't laughing a whole hell of a lot ...

Johnny (Daisuke Tsuji, left) and Ralf (Stephanie Beatriz) perform for an episode of a Manzanar radio broadcast. Photo by Jenny Graham

... because you really can't make things like Manzanar that funny, EVEN IF YOU ARE CULTURE CLASH. I did laugh at the Japanese qui... never mind, I'm not giving any more away. This is a play where the director and actors needed to take hold of the reins a bit more and calm down the wildly inventive writers/actors of Culture Clash (I mean, I hate to say cut Fidel and the raft, but ... yeah, cut that damn raft scene; it's way too long), but after I read the Illuminations piece on it (by Steven Leigh Morris, whom I met in May), I understood that the ending was not only recent but also rather contested. I wondered to my friends if, like those annoying TV Guide covers, there were different endings on different nights. That would fit this play. It's also a no-intermission play, 90 minutes, at the New Theater. Very worth seeing.

Juan José (René Millán) thanks his backers in support of his citizenship (David Kelly, left, and Daisuke Tsuji, right). Photo by Jenny Graham

I'll write full reviews later, but I will say this: I'd pay OSF ticket prices to see either of these again.

It just occurred to me that one of the two remaining performances of the The Oregon Festival of American Music's Kiss Me, Kate is Wednesday, Aug. 4, and the paper doesn't come out until Thursday, Aug. 5. I liked the show. Go see it. Here's my review, adapted from what will be out on Thursday:

The cast members of The Taming of the Shrew, the play-within-the-play of Kiss Me, Kate. Courtesy OFAM

Humming Away at the Hult
Kiss Me, Kate's a Porter gem
by Suzi Steffen

I’m an earworm magnet, but even by my standards, Kiss Me, Kate’s a humdinger.

For a few days, it was “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” (sung handily at OFAM’s production by the excellent recent UO grad Kathleen Leary and the company), set to the rhythm of wheels on the river path. Then I had to hear “Wunderbar” — which should be banned somehow; after all, the very point of the song is how bad and conventional it was in the show during which Fred Graham (Bill Hulings) and Lilli Vanessi (Shirley Andress) met — over and over in my head. I think I even dreamt about it.

Read the rest after the jump!

What else sticks? “So In Love,” which Andress sings sweetly early and Hulings makes the emotional center of the show later on. When I’m walking, “We Open In Venice” pops in unbidden. When the cat brushes by my legs? “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” immediately comes to mind.

All this to say that Cole Porter was a genius (“I’ve come to wive it wealthily in Padua” — how would you rhyme that? “I heard you say, ‘Good God, man, what a cad you are’”? Porter did, to my delight), that Kate’s got some fine cast members and if you have any sense of joy, you’ll get yourself to the Hult Center for one of the final two performances Wednesday, Aug. 4, and Saturday, Aug. 6.

The story sets a musical adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew inside a 1940s Baltimore backstage drama. Does it make sense? That's completely not the point. Hulings and Andress, who seem basically to have invented the OFAM musical pairing, perform admirably in parts that require physical maulings and emotional challenges. Andress has to deal with the dual annoyance of playing Kate in Taming of the Shrew and playing the wounded/demanding Lilli. Hulings, as Fred Graham/Petruchio, gets to lark it about in “Where Is the Life that Late I Led” and several scenes with gangster duo John L. Muellner and Ron Judd, who add that touch of mid-20th-century absurdity required in odd places, basically for costume and scene changes, in musicals like Kate.

Ecaterina plays Lois Lane/Bianca without the super-sleaze sometimes associated with that role. If Ben Goodman, whose ethereal beauty blazes in the Taming costumes, doesn’t prove a believable Bill Calhoun/Lucentio, the man certainly can dance anyone off the stage. The book, by Sam and Bella Spewack, can’t quite keep up with the madcap Porter lyrics — but then, what could? Also, when I first saw this as a kid, I somehow missed that “Too Darn Hot” basically discusses male, er, performance when it’s warm outside. Seriously: There’s a song about heat-induced erectile dysfunction. Win.

If I had to choose which musical to see this week (or weekend), I'd choose Kate.

La liberté guidant le peuple, by Eugène Délacroix; public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

Aux armes, mes amis et amies de l'art! C'est un vrai révolution!

Well, OK, maybe not. Just got a press release from Steve LaRiccia. coordinator of The New Zone Gallery. Let me quote (with certain proper name errors corrected so I don't go crazy) some of it, for it conveys indeed the depth of feeling I also heard from other visual artists at our Eugene Arts Illuminati/Arts Meetup last Wednesday (next meetup: Wednesday, August 18, at Marché Museum Café, btw):

In accord with the changing to a more efficient submission process of artwork for this year's Mayor's Art Show, i.e. an on-line entry form, only a digital image accepted, a shopping cart with only Paypal payments instead of bringing in actual artwork to Jacobs Gallery is [sic] in the past. Also with an earlier submission date and little notice of these changes, a number of artists will miss out on this popular show and even fewer numbers to participate if refused to exhibit work into the Salon des Refusés. In contrast, for example, the Springfield Mayor's Art Show has sent out by mail a "Call to Artists" with an entry form included, months before their event to every artist who entered last year.

I'm sensing some anger, here. You? From what I've heard from artists, some of the anger comes from the (Eugene) MAS sudden change — which was, in turn, altered by the push to move the Eugene Celebration date to a probably sunny, no Duck football game weekend. Also, I think the artists did not appreciate being asked for money to submit their artwork. Some suggested that the Weekly sponsor a certain number of artwork uploads, for, say, an hour or so (for the MAS, not the Salon du Peuple). Didn't have time to organize that sponsorship this year, but I do think it's a lovely idea for next year, artists being kind of un-rich and all.

Ennnnnyway, point of this post is, the Salon des Refusés has now become the Salon du Peuple, and let me quote just a little bit more:

If your work was refused by the Mayor's Art Show (MAS), feel free to bring it on in! If your work was accepted by the MAS, you are more than welcome to bring in something different! If you missed the MAS submission and didn't enter work, still, bring a piece in! Didn't plan to enter the MAS, no problem, bring it on down!

That submission process — from noon-6 pm Saturday, August 21. at New Zone, 164 W. Broadway — costs $10 for each piece entered; the gallery takes a 35 percent commission for any work sold.

The Mayor's Art Show submission deadline was Saturday. Assuming that we have room, we'll review both. If not, look for more info on this here blog!

Two things, Friday peeps!

1. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is having a COSTUME SALE.

Maria (Robini Goodlin Nordli), Olivia (Miriam Laube) and Malvolio (Christopher Liam Moore) in a particularly amusing scene during this year's Twelfth Night. Photo by Jenny Graham.

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.

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