A Vacation By Any Other Name
Oh. Wait. I *was* on vacation. That *was* its name 🙂
I spent last week in Ashland, Oregon, attending the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with my husband, my college roommate, and her family. We saw seven plays in four days — a matinee and evening show every day but one (when we just had an evening performance). The plays are all performed in repertory, so we got to see many of the actors multiple times. (We also saw two understudies who did amazing jobs!) It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’ll try to sort the shows:
- THE GREAT SOCIETY: This was the best play — a sequel to ALL THE WAY, which we were lucky enough to see in New York, with Brian Cranston *channeling* LBJ. SOCIETY picks up immediately after the events in ALL THE WAY. The actor who played LBJ, Jack Willis, was very different from Cranston — he wasn’t as tall (Cranston wore lifts), and he was heavier; he didn’t have the same physicality, and he didn’t present a caricature of the president. Rather, he delivered his lines with emotion and skill, *acting* to resemble the former president. The script was wonderful as well — over and over again, I was struck by how similar to a Shakespearean tragedy it was — LBJ could have been any king in the histories, seeking counsel from his advisors, receiving some good advice, some bad.
- INTO THE WOODS: This was the best musical (see what I’m doing here?) — great performances with some difficult music, staged well with minimal sets and lots and lots of doubling of actors. Many of the musicians were students, playing with the professionals; they sounded perfect to my ears.
- RICHARD III: A very close second to best play. Dan Donahue’s Richard was utterly unredeemed evil (per the script); he brought the audience in as co-conspirators, sharing his plans with us with wicked, conniving joy. He was the most disabled RIII I’ve ever seen — he needed to use a leather strap around his neck to hold his contorted left hand, whenever he needed those fingers. I didn’t remember the women’s roles being as prominent as they were.
- A WRINKLE IN TIME: This was a world premiere adaptation, and it was an earnest attempt to make one of my favorite children’s books come alive. Alas, it wasn’t entirely successful — mostly because the book is so *vivid* in my mind, with such wonderful otherworldly settings… I was always aware that I was watching a play, instead of getting involved in the characters.
- THE TEMPEST: I’ve never liked this play — it has a lot going for it (magic! books! enchanted isle!) but it never really manages to deliver, and the clown scenes go on for *way* too long. That said, this production had some good things going for it — an otherworldly set, cool fairies that assisted Ariel and Prospero. The best thing about the production, though, was the romance between Miranda and Ferdinand. The actors who played those roles played the title roles in the best ROMEO AND JULIET I’ve ever seen, a couple of years ago — they have amazing chemistry, and they truly sold their scenes. (Another high point — the music and dance number in the second act was kept short — sometimes, it turns into its own endless spectacle!)
- TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA: This all-female production was confusing at first — it wasn’t clear whether the performers were supposed to be women playing women or women playing men. (They were women playing men, it turned out.) There was some odd doubling, with a very distinctive actor playing Launce (a clown) and Sylvia’s father. The dog, Crabbe, was played by a wonderful Great Pyrenees who was very fun to watch 🙂
- COMEDY OF ERRORS: Another play that isn’t one of my favorites. This highly edited performance (1.5 hours, no intermission) was set in Harlem in the 1920s. The actors who doubled the leads did a good job of bouncing back and forth through their many fast costume changes, but the play itself is silly (and there’s no good way to stage the ending, when other actors need to come on to perform the final confrontation scene.) Some of our group thought that this was one of the best plays, so it was obviously a matter of taste!
In between going to plays, we ate massive amounts of very good food. We also spent a lot of time talking, reading, generally relaxing… And I couldn’t pass up the yarn at Webspinners — I came home with two new projects. (That yarn shop has the most different (textures, types, etc) yarn I’ve ever seen collected in one place! I ended up with several small skeins of mercerized cotton for one shawl and some beautiful hand-dyed silk-and-camel for another shawl…)
And now I’m home, a bit shocked to realize that none of my to-do list got done while I was gone 🙂