Sunday, June 10, 2018

kalimac in Ashland

B. and I have just returned from three full days at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where we -

sorry, the cat just walked in, announced imperiously (in Cat), "So you're back. Come and pet me." and there went twenty minutes.

- saw six plays in what was not too bruising a schedule. Bursts of rain failed to interfere in the outdoor shows. Three of these plays have been running since February. The other three were literally on first or second previews. You wouldn't have been able to tell.


I find this an inherently problematic play. It's no longer acceptable for Othello to be played by an actor who is anything other than black, but there aren't a lot of other parts for black actors in Shakespeare, so when I've seen it before, Othello was played by a young actor without much Shakespearean experience, and since the character is a credulous fool, making him all the tougher to perform adequately, the grizzled white veteran invariably cast as Iago just wiped the floor with him.
The solution to this problem has arrived with the recently wide-spread advent of color-blind casting in other Shakespearean roles. According to his cast bio, Chris Butler, cast as Othello here, has previously been in eight different Shakespeare plays at various theaters (I saw him as Don John in a somber-toned Much Ado, when he previously popped up here in 2004), and though his character is still stupid, he had the chops to tackle this large and weighty part and stand up against OSF veteran Danforth Comins, who is not about to lose my vote as the finest Shakespearean actor currently treading the boards, as Iago. Alejandra Escalante, a strong and powerful Desdemona, also triumphed over what can be a wimpy role.

Romeo and Juliet. Emily Ota, though a fine actress, seemed to me too mature and forceful to be well-cast as the young and impetuous Juliet. William Hodgson as Romeo was adequate but not very memorable. The memorable and brilliant stars of this production were a pair of OSF veterans cast as chatty sidekicks: Robin Nordli, hilariously gabby as the Nurse, and Michael Hume, fretfully gabby as Friar Laurence. Notable frontiers in casting: the actress playing Lady Montague is deaf, so any scene with her in it had a lot of sign language.

Love's Labor's Lost. Played as OSF plays Comedy of Errors, as a roustabout comedy, and for the same reason: to make a crusty old script funny for a modern audience. Succeeded through a combination of goofballing and anachronisms. For the masque depicting the Nine Worthies, one character shows Hercules by ripping his shirt open, and another guesses who he's playing: "The Incredible Hulk!"

Increasingly Non-Shakespearean

The Book of Will
by Lauren Gunderson. A new play depicting Shakespeare's surviving colleagues conceiving, editing, and publishing the First Folio. Tribulations bring drama, but mostly this is a tribute to their love of the memory of Shakespeare the man (much discussed but not depicted onstage) and their desire to preserve his work after they're gone. A lively mixture of humor and melancholy, with lots of gratifying assumptions that the audience knows its Shakespeare well. The editors' wives and a grown daughter play major roles both substantive and in encouragement. This is, among other things, a play about mature men who love their wives, so I could really identify.

Sense and Sensibility, adapted from Austen by Kate Hamill. A good adaptation in both substance and style, framed by having those actors not in a given scene standing around giving gossipy narration. If there's one character in this year's offerings as young and impetuous as Juliet Capulet, it's Marianne Dashwood, so who plays her? Yes, Emily Ota. Excellent performance, but it was hard not to wonder what she's doing there. Elinor (Nancy Rodriguez) gets overshadowed. Actually, rather as with the veterans in R&J, the florid K.T. Vogt as Mrs Jennings outacted everybody. Post-show talk by Nate Cheeseman, a first-year actor with a big chin, who played Willoughby. Said he'll be in an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice soon: as Wickham. I think his chin has typecast him. There was one clunker in the play, and I checked: it's in the script. At one point a servant introduces Sir John Middleton as "Lord Middleton". Oh dear: no, no, no, NO.

Destiny of Desire by Karen Zacharias, a play in the style of a telenovela. A Mexican family melodrama packed with romance, adultery, baby-switching and other long-lost relatives, financial chicanery, medical malpractice, and murder, all of it played strictly for laughs. Performed with intense verve by an all ethnically Latin cast.

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