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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Tears in all the right places

Beloved visiting the OSF Elizabethan stage in the 1970s

Last Son and I went to Ashland, where Beloved took me every summer in the mid-seventies, to have a look at a couple of Shakespeare plays and to walk around and gawk at all the rich Californians. The walk-around was all the horror show it promised to be, and we found ourselves spending more and more time in remote corners of Lithia Park in recovery from exposure to humanity. He's far more sensitive to this sort of thing than I, as he's dealing with a mild case of Asperger's, and sometimes I had to get up and walk, relying on him to stay with me, so that he could vent without terrorizing the objects of his dismay. It's a little like going for a walk with Dr. Swift, at his most misanthropic, through the heart of the madding crowd.

I suppose, if driving a huge SUV through hundreds of miles of scorched semi-arid country to buy bits of jewelry for two hundred dollars and sit down in sun-blasted open-air bistros to thirty-dollar plates is the kind of thing that you like, you will like the kind of thing that downtown Ashland is becoming.

Son appreciated the Green Show and The Tempest but had little liking for As You Like It. My views were in accord with his, though more muted, though for me there's relatively little harm that a company can do to AYLI, even when they try.

I had forgotten that there is a tendency for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to experiment wildly with the temporal settings of the plays in the Bowmer, as compared to their more conservative treatments on the outdoor Elizabethan stage. This AYLI was done up in Great Gatsby/Depression styles, complete with Charles the Wrestler spouting off in Brooklynese and the forest of Arden as a hobo jungle. The Shepherds were Oakies... this sort of thing can be hard to watch when lines about "What shall I do with my doublet and hose" must be declaimed by a character in overalls, complete with hammer-loop and screwdriver pocket.

To their credit, the players were full-on in both their comedy and pathos, none of the set pieces sounded at all trite, and the Rosalind (Miriam Laube), a very New-York-socialite Rosalind, reached and won over the audience and provoked tears in all the right places. Her relationship to Celia (Julie Oda) was also delightful. Son and I were in the second row, far left, so we often missed facial expressions in crucial scenes front and center on the thrust stage, which were to our right in the midst of most of the audience, yet I felt the blocking was well-directed and as fair as it could be to those of us on the periphery. Worth going to see? Yes, though perhaps not all by itself after such a harrowing drive...

The Green Show that opened for the Tempest was pleasing, though not at all what I would have expected from bygone days. We had been raised up, so to speak, on sackbuts, crumhorns, and peasant blouses, whereas this was sweat-glistening dancers in red and black Spandex. In keeping with the sense of aerial spirits from the play, though. The music was original compositions in a traditional Irish setting, with pennywhistles, drums, keyboard, fiddle, contralto and soprano. Very world-class.

I mentioned to Son that while the music was as good as its kind would be even in Ireland, the dancing was, while terrific, clearly not New York. To which he replied, "You forget, even New York is not the New York everyone hopes for. This is just fine."

When we got into the Allen Pavilion, I saw that the changes to the structure were unobtrusive even though there were now far more seats. Ours were in the last of the old rows, Q, behind which were the standing room only spaces. Far from the stage, yes, but with the acoustically enhanced balcony directly above us, the sound was improved from what I could remember.

This Tempest proved very spare, with minimalist attention to staging or costuming, and required much of its magic to come from within the actors, particularly Prospero (Derrick Lee Weeden), Miranda (Nell Geisslinger), Ariel (Nancy Rodriguez), and Caliban (Dan Donohue). They all delivered, and this was the best Prospero I had ever seen. The father-daughter relationship was strong and completely believable, and Prospero's conflicts in letting go -- of her, of Ariel, and of his mastery in his "arts" -- foregrounded beautifully. Shakespeare seems, through this interpretation, to be saying that that which renders us most human is a capacity for abjuring power over others.

The "entertainment" for Miranda and her Prince was one of those classic show-stoppers of the kind for which OSF is known. The backdrops of the inner stages were lit with a myriad of stars -- light-emitting diodes, I would guess -- and the ropes that had served earlier for rigging for the King's ship became climbing ropes for balletic spirits, softly lit from above, spinning slowly in unison while singing a capella. I caught myself with my mouth hanging open, and I'm sure I was not the only one.

The standing ovation for this production was richly deserved.

At the Tudor Guild, Son bought a Renaissance hat for Daughter and a "claymore" letter-opener for her young man.

For Beloved, I bought a refrigerator magnet with this quotation (Sonnets 119):




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