Wednesday, September 28, 2022

20 hours at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

20 hours over two days was long enough to see both of the actual Shakespeare plays the self-designated Shakespeare Festival has seen fit to put on this year.

The Tempest had some good acting, but as a show it was dull, duller, dulles. This was partly the fault of the text, which is one of old Will's poorest: it's filled with people talking about what they're going to do later. But a good production can overcome that. This wasn't one. The direction was lax, the amplification in the outdoor theatre subjected the speaking to airport PA levels of unintelligibility, and the costuming was stunningly bad. The text specifies that Prospero has a sumptuous wardrobe, but he and Miranda looked like they were dressed in seaweed. How can Alonso be expected to welcome his new daughter-in-law if she looks like something the cat dragged in?

That Prospero was Black, his brother was Hispanic, and his daughter was Vietnamese is only what you expect of stage Shakespeare shows these days, and not a mental hurdle for the viewer, any more than was ...

King John, which was sort of guest-produced by a Seattle group calling itself the upstart crow collective, which "produce[s] classical plays with diverse casts of women and non-binary people." So this indoor-theatre production was mostly women - including a couple of OSF veterans, Vilma Silva and Kate Hurster - and a few non-binaries. And let me tell you, they were every one the most dynamic, vivid, engrossing Shakespeare cast you could hope to see. They'd all thoroughly thought through the words they were speaking, and their non-vocal movements were equally well chosen. Special credit to Jessika D. Williams as the sardonic Philip the Bastard and Aysan Celik as a thunderously vicious Constance. This little-known play is actually one of old Will's best, but it was the cast that really made it run.

The only disconcerting note was some bizarrely stylized fight scenes.

This is the first summer season OSF has put on since before the pandemic, and they're still not entirely geared up. The gift shop is closed, so is the members' lounge, and the display cases on the outside wall of the third theatre are empty. Maybe these things will be back in place next year. Maybe.

The other effect is that the theatres were half-empty. People just haven't been showing up. As a result of which, next season is cutting way back in number of productions. Masking and vaccination are strictly enforced inside the theatres, which we were comfortable with, but standards are a little loose outside in the businesses of Ashland. At least our favorite restaurants are still there, if sometimes closed over more days of the week than before.

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