Thursday, September 15, 2011

stay one day, see two plays

Or, a brief report on an overnight and an afternoon spent at what still calls itself the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Julius Caesar - This was performed in their raw, barebones workshop theater and was a raw, barebones sort of production. Set: nil. Costumes: minimal. Lighting: if the scene was set at night, it was dark. The acting, on a line-reading level, was excellent - Brutus and Cassius' colloquies were tight and intense, and Marc Antony's funeral oration subversively spontaneous in feel - but it didn't add up to much. In the assassination, stage blood spurted everywhere, including over audience members in the front seats. The conspirators washed their hands in it by dipping them into conveniently-located buckets. Antony came on and was requisitely hysteric. And then, as if this were a dramatization of an old music-hall song with one small textual difference, the corpse got up and slowly walked away.

Caesar was played by a woman. This did not bother me, but changing the pronouns, I found, did. "He" and "she" are just not the same word, especially in the most famous literary funeral oration in the language. Some of the other gendered references were changed, but others not. Antony offers Caesar a monarchial crown, not a kingly one, but other references to kings in re Caesar are kept. (And Caesar's wife? Gone, without a trace.)

The African Company Presents Richard III - The title was the best part. Inspired by an actual company of free blacks who put on R3 in New York in 1820, but probably mostly written out of author Carlyle Brown's imagination, it's mostly about the characters' hopes and dreams in that racially charged environment. Uses Shakespeare mostly as a talismanic reference the viewer is supposed to get, which is pretty much how OSF uses him these days too.

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