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Two years ago when B. and I attended the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in June, it was so blazing hot that the power in the big indoor theater shorted out during a performance.

This year it was cold, and wet. A lot of, though not consistently, drizzle, with the occasional cloudburst. Even though we had to walk around in it, we know what we prefer.

We saw five plays this year.

Henry IV, Part I: A routine and not especially inspired modern-setting production, complete with strobes and machine guns in the battle scenes, and ridiculous accents for Glendower and Douglas, only partially redeemed by a sprightly (as opposed to the more usually played irritable) female Hotspur (Alejandra Escalante) and a brilliant delivery of Falstaff's speech on honor (V.1) (but, alas, nothing else) by Valmont Thomas.

The Merry Wives of Windsor: Another Falstaff play, but this time Falstaff was played by a woman, and appropriately a woman of age and size at that (KT Vogt), but unlike Hotspur the character was played as a man. This was one of OSF's patented fast and cheerful Shakespeare comedies, further livened by excerpts from and allusions to 80s pop songs with lyrics appropriate to the plot, with a band to back them up. The entire cast, in their Elizabethan costumes, sang and danced a couple, including something by Whitney Houston (I was told: don't ask me what, as I don't know anything about Whitney Houston) and Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart"; others were more individual, for instance (one of the few I recognized), Master Ford (Rex Young) expressed his rage and jealousy by singing "Psycho Killer" by Talking Heads, with the French parts of the lyrics interjected by the French suitor, Dr. Caius (Jeremy Johnson). Surreal, man.

Beauty and the Beast (stage adaptation of the Disney movie): OSF casts actors, not singers, but the singing here was all first-class and the best part of the show. The acting and pacing were likewise good, and I was never bored; but the staging, particularly of the supernatural elements, was so primitive as to be totally incomprehensible. Were it not for my dim memories of the movie (which I saw only once, when it first came out), I wouldn't have been able to figure out what was going on.

Shakespeare in Love (stage adaptation of the Miramax movie): Slightly spacier (as in, less coherent) than the movie version, played by actors who mostly (the Viola conspicuously excepted) physically resembled the ones in the movie, this was more like watching a remake of the movie than I was entirely happy with. But it was well done.

Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles (modern adaptation of the Euripides play) by Luis Alfaro: Begged for comparison with last year's The River Bride by Marisela TreviƱo Orta, likewise a new play of Latino pedigree with a strongly mythic plot. That one really socked me, in part because the myth was new to me; in this one, the plot was by Euripides, so I knew what was going to happen, searing as it was. Also, unlike as in Euripides most of the plot was packed into the last ten minutes, instead of slowly unfolding; the rest was mostly background. But it was well-done background; Alfaro translated that plot into his undocumented-immigrant LA setting well, and I was not expecting the marriage to Glauce to be translated as literally as it was. The acting was of course excellent. Sabina Zuniga Varela as Medea was as chatty and bubbly as any young actress in the post-show talk, but on stage, like a good actress, she was totally different: still, silent, and dangerously reserved.

Culinarily this was not much of a visit of discoveries, except for accidentally finding that the Black Sheep, the pseudo-British pub that's one of my favorite local spots, is closing down next month, so I'm glad I'd decided to eat there one last time. Most of the new restaurants in Ashland are the kind with tiny menus, specified side dishes (I hate that, as the mains I like are invariably paired with the sides I don't, and it's insulting the chef to try to mix and match), and high prices. We took advantage of slack in our time schedule to have our best meals out of town.

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