Play On: Oregon Shakespeare Festival Summer Season, Part II

Archbishop of Canterbury (Richard Howard) assures Henry V (John Tufts) that there is no bar to his claim to France. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

So I started off yesterday (well, Wednesday) with the Greeks as a theme, but Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella segues perfectly into the next two themes:

Music and Marriage

That bwessed awangement, that dweam wifin a dweam

Right, that, but I want to start with the food of love: music.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival artistic director Bill Rauch has never hidden his love for musicals; 2009’s Music Man was one of his first smash hits as artistic director, and he’s had a surprising number of live musicians onstage for many plays since. But I have noticed an uptick in music within the plays that aren’t musicals since Rauch came on board permanently in 2008.

Shakespeare, as I was told by my high school “Shakespeare on Stage” teacher (Ms. Berit Lindboe, if you ever read this, this entire thing is your fault, and by “thing,” I mean my life as a Shakespeare addictnerd), liked to put songs in his comedies. Thank god our high school class never had to make up tunes to go along with the lyrics. But I digress: The point is that under Rauch, the festival has gone hog-wild with the music. Continue reading

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The Oregon Shakespeare Festival Plus The Greeks (Summer Reviews, Part I)

Touchstone (Peter Frechette) entertains Rosalind (Erica Sullivan) and Celia (Christine Albright). Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

The short and sweet of my five days in Ashland during outdoor opening of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival:

  • Go to As You Like It no matter what else you see. “It’s the play you take someone from out of town to,” said someone on Twitter, and I agree. Gorgeously presented, capably (often better than that) acted, with lighting and set designs that should win someone some awards.
  • If you have a good tolerance for war plays, hit both Henry V (in a rather traditional staging, though not traditional costuming) and Troilus and Cressida.
  • If you have a flexible mind and patience for a rather messy first act, and/or you love any of the plays involved, do go to Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella.
  • If you know nothing about the Midwest, have no dear-to-you relatives or friends there, and/or enjoy constant punning and The Merry Wives of Windsor, go ahead and hit up The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa. Otherwise, you might want to stay away.

Continue reading

A Gaggle Of Playwrights, A Gallimaufry Of Plays: Northwest 10 Hits Its Fourth Year

What stands out most vividly from the Northwest 10 might be similar to what stands out from last year’s Winter’s Tale, also at the Lord Leebrick Theatre: Local actors Tom Wilson and Dan Pegoda make a good comedic team, and Pegoda plays the banjo well.

Wilson’s not even onstage for their particular pairing in “Lunker,” but his voice echoes in the head long after the 10-minute play, by Kato Buss, comes to an end – an end slightly different, and far more amusing, than the tale on which it’s modeled.

You see, the Northwest Ten doesn’t contain 10 plays – it’s a festival of several 10-minute plays, mostly by Eugene playwrights. This is its fourth year, and the plan for attendees remains the same: Don’t like a play? Wait 10 or 12 minutes, and boom! New play, new characters. Like the weather in Eugene in the spring, I know. Actors and directors tell me it’s fun, and rather a lot of work considering the 10-minute result. This year’s playwrights responded to a theme: Writing on the Wall. In the results, that’s rarely a physical demonstration, more often an ominous phrase hovering over the characters’ actions.

The plays, with their need to set the scene rapidly, establish character and contain a reveal, have an uneven quality that can be charming or annoying. I found myself wishing that they were developed more like sketches, but perhaps I’ve been watching too many random pieces of Portlandia.

Still, playwrights, wouldn’t it be pleasant to develop the idea with your cast? That might create more seamless intentions and better performances. I haven’t asked Kato Buss, but I wonder if he had his two adult characters in mind when he wrote “Lunker” – his play, directed by Mary Gen Fjelstad, exhibited the closest fit between characters as written and actor ability (I should add that in “Lunker,” 8-year-old Nalua Manaois was admirably cute and had all of her many lines down – nicely done).

The bleak “Fool on the Hill” may be one of this year’s keepers, though I wasn’t a big fan of its tone – Ty (Jay Hash) seemed at first to be heading in a different emotional direction than where he ended up, and both Daniel Borson as the annoyingly panicked Steve and Paul Rhoden as the crazed Paul might have been more convincing with less flailing about.

I also kept wondering if these characters had ever read anything about survival in the wild, which was definitely not the half-existential, half-violent point of the play. Or am I taking it too much into the psychological realm when it was the hand of a malevolent spirit (Bob Buechler, the Tree) that caused them to lose their logic? In any case, like a lot of horror, it sticks around.

I suppose loneliness and loss worm their way into our memories and hearts more easily than something like “You Slay Me,” a comedic contribution by Laura Robinson. In that piece, Ron Judd pulls off quite the amusing transformation with a light, surefooted touch that’s fun to see. (Some of the stage business seems too big for the story itself, but it’s still an enjoyable little piece.)

In “Picketing for Pros,” Jorah LaFleur (literally) kicks some serious energy into the proceedings, making her character, Caroline, both outrageous and sympathetic – and hilarious. I admit to an extra laugh at the mention of “an Iowa City clinic” (wave to the fantastic Emma Goldman– is Portland playwright Ari Chadwich-Saund from the Midwest? Hm…). I didn’t think the revelation of Caroline’s actual job fit with her character in general, but again, I might simply want people to be more consistently good than any playwright would go for.

Paul Calandrino is the original NW10 idea guy and one of three producers behind NW10 this year. His contribution is “Cape Perpetua,” in which poor Jay Hash has to play another schlub and Sarah Papineau has to play the schlub’s annoyed girlfriend. I think this piece is a well-intentioned morality tale with characters who are a bit too stereotypical to work. The annoyed girlfriend redeems herself in a fashion that seems both naïve and overly sweet, which is not at all like the other 10-minute plays we’ve seen from Calandrino. I’m uncomfortable with the politics around asking someone who’s not from the disabled community to play a man with a severe disability, but Dale Light performs that character – unfortunately the vehicle for the girlfriend’s redemption – well.

Have you noticed a theme aside from writing on the wall? Many writers are directors or actors in the production. “Fish Climbs Tree”’ by Light features Tom Wilson again acting beautifully (that terrified whine!), but one of the two main premises, involving a gun and a computer, doesn’t make a lot of sense. The last play, “Inner Tube” by Fjelstad, had me laughing despite some awkward acting over the New Age/Western-style “Buddhism” bullshit its characters spout while one rips the other’s heart to shreds – such a perfect play for Eugene.

The turnEnsemble with Brandon Rumsey, James Bean, Sarah Pyle and Noah Jenkins, all students at the UO, provides music between and occasionally during the plays. It’s unobtrusive and provides small little hints about what’s to come in several of the plays.

The NW10 is always a mixed bag – but one that gets the brain spinning. You’ve got one more weekend, this one, to see the plays on Friday or Saturday nights or at the Sunday matinee (there’s a talkback after that one) – the tickets are $15, $12 for people 25 and younger, and you can get them by calling 541-465-1506 or clicking here.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


Shamrock! Not that there is such a thing ... but anyway, the attribution is by greymalkn on Flickr, CC 2.0, from Wikimedia Commons.

I’m the usual Midwestern (originally, now from the Pacific Northwest) white person – Irish and German, though there might be some English, Scottish, French and who knows what else in there before they immigrated to the U.S. in the 1840s and 1860s.

I grew up with one grandparent who emphasized the Irish Catholic side of the family, so we had St. Paddy’s Day with corned beef and cabbage, carrots, potatoes, soda bread, a cake with a shamrock on it (shamrocks aren’t a real plant, by the way) and little replica shillelaghs (shi-LAY-lee) all over my grandparents’ house. (I also learned to do some Irish dancing in my Catholic school girl uniform from the wonderful Sister Eileen at Notre Dame de Sion Lower School in Kansas City, but that’s long forgotten. Thankfully.)

I’m not Catholic anymore; I don’t eat meat (though I did find a motherlode of “vegan corned beef and cabbage” recipes today); and I don’t want a chocolate cake with green sprinkles making a shamrock on it. I don’t drink green beer or Guinness. I do listen to some Irish music though…

Why did so many Irish Catholics come to the U.S. (and Canada and Australia)? Here’s a kind of goofy Sinead O’Connor … um … rap – which pretty much answers that:

And I admit to loving “Kilkelly, Ireland” about what happened back home (I first heard it in 1991 in Estes Park, Colorado, when the group Colcannon played there – I like their version better, but I can’t find it online):

Here’s one of my fave Irish-in-the-U.S. Pogues songs, in a rather weird YouTube form:

And randomly, a couple of my fave recent Irish books:
Roddy Doyle’s Paula Spencer
Colm Toíbín’s Brooklyn

With the exception of Paula Spencer, occurs to me that everything I’ve linked is pretty sad. But the Irish have a good sense of humor, and I’m personally pleased that my long-ago family immigrated, and that I do not live in a place where the Church still has way too much power. Plus, hey, we wouldn’t have so many sad and sentimental and frankly boozy songs and books and movies (well, the movies tend to be a bit more grim) without that immigration.

All of that said, the original point of this post was that I love it when the Muppets sing “Danny Boy.”

I bet you do too.