Thursday, Dec 08, 2016

My Fair Lady (2013)

Ensemble. Photo by Jenny Graham.

Ensemble. Photo by Jenny Graham.

As many of you know, I’m not a fan of musicals. I don’t loathe them, but the ones I like are few and far between (Mamma Mia and Rock of Ages, both movies). I went into My Fair Lady with an open mind, knowing only the bare outlines of the plot, and hoped for the best.

The singing was wonderful — Rachel Warren plays Eliza Doolittle with strength and joy. Her singing is glorious, her timing impeccable, and her phrasing simply a joy to listen to. The rest of the cast is uplifted by her, many of them doing far better than I’ve heard them do in past performances. Jonathan Haugen is not known for his singing talents (although you know he’s been a long-time favorite of mine), nor is Anthony Heald (ditto), but each was wonderful, surprising and delighting me with their performances. I want to particularly call out Ken Robinson for his daftly perfect performance of Freddy Eynsford-Hill and David Kelly’s perfectly proper and quite self-centered Colonel Pickering was a perfect counterpoint to Henry Higgins’ rudeness. The cast was, simply put, just great — well done, all of you.

The Taming of the Shrew (2013)

Left waiting at the alter, Kate (Nell Geisslinger) is not a happy woman. Photo by Jenny Graham

Left waiting at the alter, Kate (Nell Geisslinger) is not a happy woman. Photo by Jenny Graham

The Taming of the Shrew is a difficult play for modern audiences. There are scenes where it is clear that Petruchio is literally torturing Kate to make her submit (sleep deprivation and starvation). He clearly says that this is necessary, he does it for love of her, and he will continue until she submit and agree to whatever he says, completely.
“Ay, and amid this hurly I intend
That all is done in reverend care of her;
…This is a way to kill a wife with kindness;
And thus I’ll curb her mad and headstrong humour.”
Act IV, Scene 1

Kate is reviled and belittled, even by her father. She suffers not fools, and being intelligent and knowing how poor her lot in the world (being a woman), she has become — as they say — shrewish. Modern audiences are deeply in sympathy with her position. So it is a tricky play to try to ‘pull off’.

Cymbeline (2013)

Imogen (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) goes to sleep with thoughts of her banished husband, Posthumus.  Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Imogen (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) goes to sleep with thoughts of her banished husband, Posthumus.
Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Variously called a problem play, a romance, a tragedy and a comedy, Cymbeline is a rarely performed play from the end of Shakespeare’s career. And there are good reasons for that. The plot contains many of his favorite tropes and themes: a man’s noble character is clear, even when he is raised basely; a change of clothes makes a woman into a man and transforms one man into another; lost children are returned to their family; evil ambition is thwarted. As well, the supernatural — particularly a seeress and dead relatives — plays a role in tying all of the plot elements together. These are familiar themes for Shakespeare — what is unusual is how he changes your expectations.

The Heart of Robin Hood (2013)

Marion (Kate Hurster), disguised as Martin, finds life in the woods exhilarating. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

This play, which opened Saturday night at the Elizabethan, is a huge crowd-pleaser. Somewhat like a summer ‘tent-pole’ movie, it’s got a little bit of many things, calculated to delight the largest number of people. A revision of the old Robin Hood tale, which debuted at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon a few years ago, is stuffed full of Shakespearean memes which probably accounts for a great deal of the audience’s enjoyment.

Joel Sass directs this tale, centered on Marion (the talented Kate Hurster) a woman with no interest in following her guardian (Michael J. Hume)’s plan to marry her to the powerful, and power-mad, Prince John (Michael Elich, doing a fantastic job). Fleeing to the forest, she hopes to join Robin Hood (the ever-excellent John Tufts) and his band, only to discover that he is no shining example of nobility — he steals from the rich, yes but keeps it all for himself and his men. Moreover, he will allow no women in his band — they make men ‘messy’. Thwarted, she returns home, only to sneak out again, this time disguised as a youth — Martin of Sherwood — and with a plan to set herself up as the noble bandit. She steals from the rich, and gives it all away to the poor. She does it so well, that they come to her for help when Prince John threatens to hang a man and his family for not paying his taxes. Teaming up with Robin they fail to rescue the father, but save the children, creating a long involved sub-plot and a reason for the two bands to unite.

Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella

Along with Tracy Young, Artistic Director Bill Rauch, M/M/C (as it is called by nearly everyone) combines three mythologically grounded works: Euripides’ “Medea,” Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, and the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical version of “Cinderella.” One the face of it, a deeply weird combination, but Rauch and Young felt that all three tales share common themes of magic, love, murder, obsession, and the struggle between generations.

Troilus and Cressida

War is brutal and strange and Troilus & Cressida, one of Shakepeare’s later plays, is a triumph of layered drama. As with many of his so-called ‘problem plays’ there is a large amount of humor in the first acts, which makes for a dramatic contrast to the later ones in which there is nearly no humor at all.

Henry V

What would you do if you were an unruly prince who suddenly discovers that he wants to be king? We’ve enjoyed watching Shakespeare’s version of this tale in the two Henry IV plays, and it culminates in the ever-popular Henry V. A life of dissipation would not seem to prepare one to be king, but when John Tufts’ Henry turns his back on his barfly friends, it is a seminal moment of growing up.

Now, he is king. But France does not take him seriously. The Dauphin certainly does not, sending him a box of tennis balls to play with, abjuring him from ever coming to France. And so the tale is set and spun. We watch in joy as the young man grows in power, developing a canny political side, inspiring his troops in the face of seeming failure, and (in the end) softening to become an ardent wooer.

Winchester Inn Restaurant

The Winchester Inn is one of our favorite dining places. The food is innovative, local, seasonal, and prepared with tremendous care. The wine list is superb, full of affordable greats as well as pie in the sky fabulousity, perfect for a range of events. If I were hosting a dinner party, this would be one of my first choices for a venue.

We started by sharing the Mini Wild Mushroom, Bacon, and Filet Mignon Wellingtons – moist chunks of tenderloin spread with mushroom duxelles and encased in a delicate pastry crust. Finished with a port wide reduction, cauliflower and baby pea pods, this is a delicious starter, one of my favorites.

Amuse

One of Ashland’s fine dining options, Amuse is also one of our favorite places for a special occasion meal. The ambiance is elegantly simple, with clean lines and surprisingly comfortable seating. The menu is, of course, seasonal and local, with a few items persisting through the year.

The White Snake (2012)

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing two of Mary Zimmerman’s productions in the past; both of which blew me away. (If you get a chance to see Metamorphosis or The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, go. Immediately. You’ll be glad you did.) So it was with a great deal of anticipation that I purchased tickets to her newest production, The White Snake.

Billed as a beloved Oriental legend, this is the tale of a 1,700-year-old snake demon who spends a day as a woman and falls in love with a simple pharmacist’s assistant. With the help of her maid, another snake demon, she marries her love and helps him become a great success. But true love must undergo trials, and snake demons more than others.

Let me tell you now that this production joins my top ten plays from the sixteen years I’ve been attending OSF. I urge you to move it to the top of your ‘to see’ list immediately. It’s only playing through early July, and tickets will sell out soon. (I’m strongly considering traveling back in early June just to see it again.)

Director/author Mary Zimmerman excels at taking ancient stories and re-visioning them into modern terms. At the Preface I learned that Ms. Zimmerman casts the production without having a script in hand. The script was developed on the first days of rehearsal, and tailored to the skills and abilities of the actors. A tremendous burden for both the author and actors, but one fraught with tremendous potential. And the actors live up to the potential, beautifully. OSF regulars Emily Sophia Knapp and Christof Jean are particularly wonderful in their varied roles (and Jean’s heartfelt closing words will rip the tears from your eyes, matching the ones in his). Newcomers Amy Kim Waschke and Tanya McBride are truly excellent as the White Snake and Green Snake, respectively. The production is elegantly simple and I must offer loud kudos to Scenic Designer Daniel Ostling for doing such a good job of realizing Ms. Zimmerman’s vision.

Can you fall in love at first sight? Have all true lovers met in previous lifetimes? Can love survive doubt and the machinations of outside forces? With some fairly clear references to current politics, Zimmerman offers up a perspective in which love transcends physical limitations, like being human and being a snake.

Bring a hankie, or two, and go watch one of the best plays OSF has ever produced.

Ashland Springs Hotel

I’ve been visiting Ashland long enough that I remember when this was the Mark Anthony Hotel, as well as when it was closed for several years. It’s long been on my list of places to stay, seeming to be an elegant yet comfortable option. My primary concerns about any hotel are: a comfy bed, quiet at night, a good shower, and clean.

The bed is a bit mixed. The mattress is very comfortable – firm, yet not stiff. The pillows, however, are dreadful. There are a lot of them (six I think) but they are all very soft and flat. We asked the Front desk if they have firm pillows and they sent us a housekeeper with three new pillows, all flat and soft, but made of polyester/foam instead of feathers. SO missing the point. When was it that the hotels decided that a good night’s sleep means great mattresses and flat pillows? The sheets are cotton, the blanket down, and there is a lovely heavy cotton blanket providing the color and extra warmth if needed.