Saturday, October 17, 2015

long day's journey to Ashland

I'd already been up to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival once this year, but I returned to catch another production that had gotten very good reviews.

This was of Pericles, one of Shakespeare's obscurer works, and one can see why. It's a rather goofy play, about a man who loses his kingdom, his wife, and his daughter, all through no fault of his own; and when he is so wracked with grief that he cannot move, he cannot eat, he cannot sleep, he can just barely growl, he suddenly gets them all back again, through no virtue of his own.

Despite the tragic content, much of the play is at least potentially comedic, and this production took it as a romp, which made it totally delightful. The good reviews were all emphatically deserved. The virtuosity of the actors in multiple parts was particularly exquisite. Scott Ripley as both the imperious king Antiochus and the scattered and ingratiating king Simonides, or Brooke Parks as both the good queen Thaisa (think Belle from Beauty and the Beast) and the evil queen Dionyza (think Cinderella's stepmother) were models of what actors can do when they try. Everyone in it, even Wayne Carr as the infinitely put-upon Pericles, seemed to be having a ripping good time. So did the audience.

As long as I was going to be there anyway, I also decided to contribute to my cultural education by scoring a ticket to that acclaimed masterwork of modern drama, Long Day's Journey into Night by Eugene O'Neill. Well, it was long anyway. Topic: a dysfunctional family of drug addicts argue with each other, interspersed with reminiscing, for four hours (real time).* The director's note in the program book spoke of how deeply meaningful he finds the play to him personally, but when I consider the question, what does this play mean to me?, what comes to mind are the legendary Victorian matrons who went to see Hamlet and whispered one to the other, "How unlike the home life of our own dear Queen."

It was very well acted, I'll give it that.

I'd seen Death of a Salesman, I'd seen A Streetcar Named Desire, I'd seen plays by Ibsen and Strindberg and even Sam Shepard, all here at Ashland in excellently-acted productions, with varying degrees of wondering "Why did I subject myself to this?" and now this, with the same bloody question.

I could have done without the moment when one of the actors broke character to ask the audience to turn off their cell phones, and so, I'm sure, could he.

*The mother is addicted to the morphine in her pain medication, and her husband and sons scorn her as a "dope fiend," as if she were morally responsible for her failing, but they're all alcoholics, so they should talk.

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