Sunday, June 28, 2015

Ashland heat

Having enjoyed so much our visit to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland last year, B. and I decided to return. This year the musical theater offering was Guys and Dolls. Not the container of Loesser's best songs - that would be How to Succeed - it's nevertheless a delight. Aside from setting the costuming in the time of Runyon's stories in the 1930s, which is evidently unusual, this was a fairly conventional production, with a proscenium-ish stage setup and a pit orchestra. It was very enjoyable. The most elaborate touch was a model airplane suspended from the ceiling, representing Sky and Sarah's trip to Havana, as Nathan (who'd bet Sky he couldn't get Sarah to go on a date) watches with dismay from below as it crosses the stage on an (invisible) rail with sound effects.

Like all of OSF's musicals, this was cast with actors who can sing (the very phrase with which Kate Hurster, who played Sarah, described herself at the post-show talk) rather than singers who can act, and this gave it a different feel from the usual local theater company production. Miss Adelaide, for instance - OSF veteran Robin Nordli - is not a great singer but her characterization was superb, particularly when singing part of her lament with a thermometer in her mouth.

At the beginning of the play, the guys are trying to find a new temporary location for Nathan's permanent floating crap game, and I chuckled at this exchange, which I don't think is in the original script.
NATHAN: Adelaide says I should take the crap game and stick it where the sun don't shine.
BENNY: Seattle??
This time we also caught an actual Shakespeare, a production of Much Ado About Nothing in the indoor theater. This was magnificent, a demonstration of OSF at its best. And the best thing in it was Danforth Comins as Benedick, who had thought through the meaning of every word he speaks and spoke them all with an ease and natural speaking quality that matched that of Denis Arndt, my gold standard in this department. Comins is a redhaired mesomorph; Beatrice (Christiana Clark) was tall, willowy, black, and imposing. Leonato (Jack Willis) is the guy who played LBJ last year, and just as commanding here. Don Pedro (Elijah Alexander) was a dead ringer for Dmitri of the Flying Karamazov Brothers. Dogberry (Rex Young) rode a Segway with impressive virtuosity, and ranked pretty well on the sincere goofiness scale. Don John was a woman, for a change (Regan Linton), addressed inconsistently as both "my lady" and "my lord", and rode a wheelchair which is the actress's own. (I spoke with her afterwards, but did not have the nerve to say that I'd like to see her play that equally nasty character, her namesake from King Lear.)

And in the outdoor theater, the 19C stage adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo that Eugene O'Neill's father made his name starring in. Edmond (Al Espinosa) looked a lot like Jim Caviezel in the 2002 movie, but aside from that and the basic structure of railroaded imprisonment - escape - revenge, the plots bore little resemblance to each other (nor is either, I'm told, much like the novel). It was pretty good, though a goofy subplot, involving Villefort having an affair with an innkeeper's wife who's plotting to rob the guests, could have been cut with no loss.

We had tickets to see a fourth play, Fingersmith, an adaptation of Sarah Waters' historical novel, but we'd only gotten that to fill the evening after the Much Ado matinee, and we skipped out and got refunds after disaster struck. It's been hot hot hot here all weekend - over 100F each day - and about 15 minutes before the end of Much Ado the building's power went out. The emergency generators kicked the house lights on, Comins ad-libbed a reference to the loss of air conditioning, and the play finished without sound effects. (The actor playing Borachio had the wit to beat a handy drum to provide some sort of musical accompaniment for the other characters' closing dance.)

When 1) it wasn't fixed in time for the evening show, 2) the stage manager put an indefinite hold on the start of the play while they figured out how to handle the fact that they hadn't been able to change the set [I was told later this turned out to be just 20 minutes, but nobody knew how long it'd be at the time], 3) the audience, which had been admitted to the lobby, stood around indefinitely as the packed room grew hotter and hotter, 4) management, which is at primitive-airline levels of knowing how to handle customer relations in an unexpected emergency, made no announcements, and the only way to find out what was going on was to squeeze out to the entrance and ask someone, 5) B., already suffering from the heat, was getting worse, 6) we considered the fact that the prospect of seeing this play was rapidly shifting from "not very interested, but a nice way to occupy the evening" into "a thoroughly unpleasant way of occupying the evening", we left, collected a refund from the box office, and went back to our air-conditioned hotel to read.

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