Friday, Jun 23, 2017

Posts Tagged ‘Oregon Shakespeare Festival’

Julius Caesar (2011)

I thought I knew this play, having played Portia in a school production as a child; and of course it’s deeply steeped in our culture in one way or another. But OSF revamped it, stuck to a nearly literal line reading, and transformed it into one of the top ten plays I’ve seen in more than 16 years at OSF.

The play begins outside the New theater – the first brilliant decision made was to hold this play in their most versatile and interactive space. They went for a completely stripped down set – a series of boxes create the occasionally needed stage, table, chair or bed. Many of the actors play multiple parts, and rest in the wings, rarely leaving the audience’s visual awareness. As you approach the New Theater, the walkway is lined with tall white banners which, in stark language, describe leaders from many ages and backgrounds . . . all of whom have been assassinated. The banners continue inside and upstairs, bringing you into history. I didn’t realize it the first time I saw the production (I saw it twice, and would see it again in a minute), but Cassisus (Gregory Linnington) was wandering the lobby, occasionally chatting with people in a delightfully friendly manner. As the time to begin draws near, all of the actors stand in front of one of the four seating areas,casually chatting with the people in the front row. Vilma Silvia strides out, dashing in boots and a military-style leather jacket.

“Good evening, everyone” she called out, “I’m Vilma Silvia and tonight I will be playing Julius Caesar.”  (Surprise and consternation and then a strong sense of anticipation works its way through the audience.) “I’m going to need your help tonight throughout the play. Whenever I make this motion –” and here she threw her arms up into a V over her head — “I’m going to need to you to yell and clap and shout.” Can you do that? Let’s try it.”

*noise*

“That wasn’t really loud enough, can we do it again?”

*louder noise*

“Hmmm…  One more time.”

This time, we thundered, trying to be as loud as possible and just as the noise peaked the actor’s ran onstage, shouting the opening lines, and we were transported to Rome, watching the triumphant entrance of Julius Caesar, another member of the vox populi. It was extraordinary, as was the production. Vilma Silvia was magnificent — hard as nails, casually owning her power as a leader, and content with her popularity. Jonathan Haugen’s Brutus is fair-minded, but falls a bit too easily into his brother Cassius’ plotting, all the while giving one of the best performances I’ve seen from him over the years. We see clearly how envy can bring a good man down. Linnington’s Cassius is certainly “lean and hungry” and he wears his ambition like a shield, elegantly and passionately decrying the rise of a monarch who will displace the republic.

Seeing a woman stabbed to death — brutally — brought an extra dimension to the horror of her assassination, another interesting plot twist created by a strong woman as Caesar. With a simple shift in gender Cassius’ diatribe against Caesar as he makes the case for overthrow comes across as a sexist rant. I found Caesar’s cold reasoning a clever counterpoint to the impetuous and often unrealistic political scenarios of the other characters. When Mark Anthony (performed superbly by Danforth Comins) grieves, it is all the more poignant.

The 2011 Julius Caesar is one of the best OSF has produced in the past two decades.


Measure for Measure (2011)

I had the privilege of seeing Measure for Measure at OSF in 1998 at the Black Swan. Many elements of that production blew me away. I remember being surprised when audience members stood up and joined the play (being actors, not watchers) and the essential moment when the ironically named Angelo lays out his awful choice to the Isabella, sleep with me or your beloved brother will die, literally shocked me.

So it was with anticipatory pleasure that I waited all year for the new production; I was intrigued by the idea of a 70s setting, and Bill Rauch always does good work. This is a difficult play for modern audiences – the choice between the chastity required by one’s religion and the life of a brother doesn’t seem like a difficult one; but I trusted OSF to make me feel it, once again.

Sadly, this production did not wow me.

It opens beautifully, with three women cleaning a board room, singing softly. When they pull out guitars from the refuse cart and transform into mariachis, I smiled with happiness and settled in for another fascinating take on Shakespeare’s timeless scenarios. A few things felt a bit gimmicky – elegant Cristofer Jean’s transvestite Mistress Overdone was just on the edge, but several audience members were completely fooled by his transformation. And I particularly did not like the scene when the friar (Anthony Heald) and Isabella smoke cigarettes together and plan for the “greater good”; I felt it diminished her purity, which perhaps was the point. While I’m talking about the things I didn’t like, Stephanie Beatriz’s performance was stiff and awkward. I felt like I was watching a new actress, a tween even, and she never found her rhythm.

However, Kenajuan Bentley’s Lucio was prime excellence, a jive-talking stud who *owned* his part. Ramiz Monsef’s Pompey was smoothly snarky, hitting the comedic notes like a jazz musician. Rene Milan’s Angelo is tightly-wrapped passion and oily evil. I loved the 70’s counterculture, urban vibe, and the set design by Clint Ramos was excellent.

All in all, I’m glad I saw this play, but it doesn’t come close to the power of the earlier version that lives within my memory.

~review by Lisa Mc Sherry for Ashland Link


The Imaginary Invalid (2011)

The Imaginary Invalid has a hell of a pedigree to live up to. The play, originally by Moliere, has been adapted for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this year by Oded Gross and Tracy Young, the same pair that adpated Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters in 2009. Likewise the play is directed by Tracy Young, as in ’09. And as the director points out in the program notes, she has drawn heavily on her own expertise (once again) in commedia dell’arte to guide this production. With so many similarities, and with Servant being such a fond memory for this reviewer, the question becomes inescapable: is Invalid just as good?

To answer, I must crib from another ’09 production and “equivocate” just a bit (ha ha ho ho, I am a wit…): yes and no. Moliere’s original work has far more of a point to it than Goldoni’s does, and likewise this adaptation finds itself more grounded, perhaps more nuanced… which is a fine quality in and of itself but not exactly in sync with the farcical tone that permeates the show for most of its duration.


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?