Friday, Jun 23, 2017

Category: Oregon Shakespeare Festival Reviews

Ruined (2010)

Photo by Jenny Graham

Before I saw Ruined last week at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I was dreading it. I felt like a kid staring at a pile of vegetables – it’s supposed to be good for me, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Immediately after seeing it, mostly I was shell shocked. With a little bit of time to reflect, I have to modify my preconception before broadcasting it: Ruined is good for you, and you absolutely must see it. If you have older children, double that – it’s imperative that they see it. This isn’t because it’s so good that it outweighs the nasty feeling of swallowing it. No, Ruined goes down well, powerfully delivering its message while still leaving you with hope for the goodness of mankind.


Well (2010)

Photo by Jenny Graham

Photo by Jenny Graham

The presence of Well on this year’s roster of Oregon Shakespeare Festival productions signals in no uncertain terms that the Festival is going to remain committed to presenting remarkable new work alongside the usual buffet of surefire crowd pleasers. Presented in the New Theatre under the direction of James Edmondson,Well also shows that organizers are getting better at finding forward-looking plays that can still appeal to Festival audiences for four months: it is vigorous and thought-provoking, emotional without being treacly, and it provides a gorgeous showcase for several Company stalwarts.


Cat On a Hot Tin Roof (2010)

Photo by Jenny Graham

Photo by Jenny Graham

You know you’ve seen something special when Company members are snuffling emotionally in the row behind you. The stereotype of comedians is for them to nod at another comedian’s act and say “that was funny” without actually laughing. I’ve seen actors leave a powerful, moving show giving high fives and chatting excitedly about the performances. So, the fact that the cast of this year’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof got to their fellow actors should tell you a lot.

The play is largely a character-driven piece – there’s a plot, but the external story doesn’t actually move much and the play is essentially in real-time. Maggie (a sublime Stephanie Beatriz) comes from a hard-scrabble childhood but is now married to Brick (the what’s-left-to-say Danforth Comins), a drunken, washed-up athlete who has forsworn a budding career as a television sports announcer in favor of the bottle; Brick is the favorite son of a wealthy plantation owner who may or may not be dying soon. The action, then, revolves around the machinations of Big Daddy’s sons (Brick and his brother Gooper, the latter played with quiet frustration by Rex Young) and their wives (Maggie and Mae, respectively, the latter played by Kate Mulligan with scene-stealing brio) to secure the prime inheritance share from their father. When they aren’t digging at each other, they mostly turn on themselves.


Pride and Prejudice (2010)

Photo by Jenny Graham

Photo by Jenny Graham

Pride and Prejudice is the cure for what ails you. A sunny, unabashedly romantic production, it shines on the Angus Bowmer stage with polished acting and production values that will keep you entertained throughout. This isn’t a piece to make you question the nature of etc etc… It’s a straight-forward entertainment that succeeds admirably in its goals. One might quibble at the hurried pace it keeps through the opening scenes, but overall it holds together quite well.


Paradise Lost (2009)

Photo by Jenny Graham

As in 2008, a 20th century American play is debuting a half-season at OSF in July. It is again directed by Libby Appel. Then, as now, there is a solid cast. So what’s the difference between them; A View From The Bridge won uniformly high praise? Like the man said, “the play’s the thing”. Paradise Lost is difficult to honor as a “forgotten treasure.” A product of the 1930s, the play tells a vivid story of a middle class in decline. What we’re supposed to take from it, however, is either inscrutable or overly simplistic, take your pick.


Much Ado About Nothing (2009)

Photo by Jenny Graham

Photo by David Cooper

This year’s production of Much Ado About Nothing in the Elizabethan is a sure-fire crowd pleaser. Primary thanks goes to the playwright (an up and comer by the name of W. Shakespeare) in this, one of his most accessible and easy-to-enjoy works. The Company of OSF, however, gives us a surprisingly uneven rendering that might have caused serious grief for a less-bulletproof text. Mustache-twirling, constant yelling… Hey, they can’t all be the best of the season, right?


Macbeth (2009)

Photo by Jenny Graham

Photo by Jenny Graham

The web page for this year’s production of Macbeth at Oregon Shakespeare Festival contain a line whose like I don’t recall: “there are scenes of witchcraft, the slaughter of a mother and her children, and a decapitated head. There is violence, sensuality and disturbing imagery in the production.” Sure enough, this is an intense, savage performance of the Scottish Play.

Every aspect of the production seems marked with an exclamation point, usually with verve but once or twice with questionable results. Director Gale Edwards and his design team (Scenic Designer Scott Bradley, CostumeDesigner Murell Horton, Lighting Designer Mark McCullough and Sound Designer Todd Barton) have put together one of the most, well, “theatrical” productions in years, but the question needs to be answered, with apologies to the bard: is the production full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?


Henry VIII (2009)

Photo by David Cooper

Photo by David Cooper

And now, I will begin this review in the most honest way possible: the only thing holding this production of Henry VIII back from being great is the text. It’s been 25 years since the last production of this play at OSF and now I know why. The premiere performance on Friday was full of excellent acting, creative staging, pageantry, spectacle… everything you hope for in seeing a play other than… er, the play.


All’s Well That Ends Well (2009)

Photo by Jenny Graham

Photo by Jenny Graham

My default position towards All’s Well That Ends Well is “Eeeugh.” The play isn’t written for modern sensibilities, true, but I can’t help the disgust I feel towards the treatment of Helena and, worse, her willingness to shoulder the appalling burden that Bertram places upon her. When Diana is describing Bertram’s wooing (to Helena!) I just want to slug him.

The fact that I was crying at the Epilogue is thus a testament to the miracle I saw in the New Theatre today.


Dead Man’s Cell Phone (2009)

Photo by Jenny Graham

Photo by Jenny Graham

Can a man fall in love with a theater? There’s nothing wrong with the Angus Bowmer or the Elizabethan, but man I’ve been enjoying the New Theatre for the last few years now. The latest treat is Dead Man’s Cell Phone, a new-ish play by Sarah Ruhl. The play itself is good, but the company does such a great job of executing the production that it is elevated to a truly special place.


Equivocation (2009)

Photo by Jenny Graham

Photo by Jenny Graham

The word on the street is that Equivocation, a new play by Bill Cain that receives its world premiere in this year’s repertoire at OSF, is something special – darkly funny, profound and illuminating. The word on the street is bang on – this is a passionate, exhilarating play that is more timely than any work about a turn-of-the-17th-Century acting company has any right to be.