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.
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.
These reviews will appear in the March 4 Eugene Weekly. Suzi, not surprisingly, has more to say than we had room for and will be posting some extra blog bits about 'em. Also, look for reviews of Well and Pride and Prejudice later today on the blog, and in the paper March 11.
Brick (Danforth Comins) rebuffs Maggie's (Stephanie Beatriz) attempts to draw him into conversation. Photo by David Cooper
OSF’s Opening Salvos Resonate
Get tickets now for these two classic, strong plays
By Anna Grace and Suzi Steffen
We attended four plays during the opening of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 75th annivesary year. The two reviewed here were not only the best of the weekend but some of the best plays the two of us have ever seen. We’d urge you to get tickets soon (off-season tickets are 25 percent cheaper than summer tickets … hint, hint).
Sizzlingly Striking Cat
by Anna Grace
“Bravo! Bravo!” yelled the man to my left as he leapt to his feet, and that was only when the curtain swiveled around for intermission. OSF’s near perfect production of Tennessee Williams’ iconic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof deserves his praise.
Maggie the Cat’s desperate play for self preservation and Brick’s angst about a deep male friendship may belong to the Mississippi Delta of 1955, but the struggles of power, sex and unrequited love that permeate a family are timeless. In this slightly revised 1974 version of the play, Williams is relentless, exposing anguish, shame and fear until audiences are acutely uncomfortable but powerless to look away.
Danforth Comins is extraordinary as Brick, able to move, speak and even sweat along his brow and upper lip like an alcoholic on a binge. Stephanie Beatriz is equally satisfying in the role of Maggie the Cat. Big Daddy (Michael Winters) echoes Maggie’s scrapping, passionate nature. Further cementing this exceptional show are Kate Mulligan and Rex Young as Mae and Gooper.
Big Daddy (Michael Winters) and Brick (Danforth Comins) finally have the conversation they've never had. Photo by David Cooper
All action is intentionally set in Brick and Maggie’s bedroom on the Pollitt plantation, symbolizing the absence of boundary between private and public in a family. Brilliant designer Christopher Acebo further plays on this by pushing a circular thrust out into the seating, and surrounding it by two layers of sheer white curtains in which characters can eavesdrop or escape. Thus is director Christopher Liam Moore aided in his endeavor to haul his audience along with his characters into the tense bedroom and onto the “hot tin roof” where pain and frustration are laid raw.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof runs only through July 4 at the Bowmer Theatre.
Hamlet (Dan Donohue) contemplates the ghostly vision of his father. Photo by David Cooper
by Suzi Steffen
Playing Hamlet must be one of the the most challenging and the most glorious opportunities for a Shakespearean actor. Dan Donohue’s skinny-jeaned, tight-T-shirted Hamlet exhibits a sense of humor and a distanced self-awareness that doesn’t quite let him anticipate the consequences of his actions. He’s fallible, snarky, wounded and full of contradictions; he’s an urban man brought reluctantly home from the city to deal with family issues he’d rather not face at the ancestral castle.
OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch, also the director of Hamlet, and Donohue worked together closely to create this modern version, where the King of Denmark’s castle guards wear SECURITY on their uniforms and shine powerful flashlights from their automatic weapons. Christopher Acebo’s multi-door and movable-wall set creates the sense that Hamlet feels trapped despite the many means of escape.
Donohue inhabits Hamlet so fully, breathes the lines so well, that even those solilioquies filled with famous aphorisms and quotes seem natural, proceeding from character. He’s such a graceful actor too that he beautifully dances the American Sign Language he employs to talk to his father, Old Hamlet (Howie Seago, the Deaf actor who was in Music Man last year).
Richard Elmore’s normal spluttery ways fit spluttery old Polonius well, and it’s easy to see his kids, hippie gardener Ophelia (Susannah Flood) and bearded indie rock dude Laertes (David DeSantos), needing their space. On the other hand, Jeffrey King doesn’t give Claudius creditable motive; the usurper king seems vicious and vengeful, true, but without affection for Gertrude (Greta Oglesby, a wonderful actor directed to be too passive in this role). Armando Durán is miscast and badly costumed as Horatio; we don’t see his loyalty to and love for his friend until far too late.
The Player King (Ramiz Monsef) and his band, especially the Player Queen (Khatt Taylor), give the play within a play a lyrical, driving performance, the beat of iambic pentameter and the beats of hip hop melding into a new, intense sound. Donohue’s incandescent performance deserves repeat viewing, as does this flawed but gorgeously stunning Hamlet.
Hamlet runs through Oct. 30 at the Bowmer Theatre.
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.
Chuck Adams and
Suzi Steffen's Official
OSF Opening Weekend Reviews!
Chuck and I would very much welcome thoughtful comments and/or mini-reviews from those who have seen the plays, written the plays, acted in the plays, directed the plays, etc.
If you've already been, what did you see in previews or during the opening? What did you like about the plays, what bothered you, what details did you notice? If you're going to Ashland for some of these plays, which ones are you planning to see? Who are some of your favorite OSF actors? Feel free to tell us in the comments! Most of this appears in the paper on Thursday, so if you got here from there, welcome to you too! -- Suzi
Here's the thing itself:
Joy, Greed, Colonialism and Trombones
Oregon Shakespeare Festival slings itself into a new season
by Suzi Steffen & Chuck Adams
The sun shone on opening weekend at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, and the new artistic directorâ€™s vision swept energy and excitement into the festival even in a time of economic uncertainty.
(More after the jump!)