Saturday, August 28, 2010

Oregon Shakespeare Festival

AMAZING experience. We went to 8 plays in 5 days. They have three theaters running with two shows a day each. The actors were often in two different productions in one day. We went with Georgia McDade, a friend of mine who is a Shakespeare expert, so we got lots of insights. Also, Oregon Shakespeare Festival provides educational material, both printed, in lectures, talks after the performances, back stage tours ( we toured with the actor who played Prince Hal in Henry IV Part I,) musical adaptations (Shakespeare sonnets as hip hop). This was a total immersion.

They included multimedia in several performances, film, animation, text, etc. the lighting was part of the story. When Olivia in Twelfth Night fell in love the red lights suffused the whole Elizabethan stage. In Hamlet, soliloquies had green lights and freeze action. Throne of Blood had film, black outs, brilliant lights.

And aside from the contemporary and recent plays, where you expect it, Shakespeare is all about exactly the way we behave today. Nothing has changed, greed, power, land, love, lust, betrayal, its all there, with the poetic dialogue that we have to read over and over after the play in order to pick up all the nuances.
The plays we saw in order were

Hamlet, with Don Donovan in the leading role, performed in contemporary cocktail clothes and with a hip hop performance in the middle, amazing lighting, and of course, phenomenal acting.

The play within a play in Hamlet ( where he lets his mother and step father know that he knows they killed his father) was performed to music by Outkast, J-Z, LL Kool J, and Tupac. But the lines were all from Shakespeare. What a tour de force.

Hamlet ( Don Donovan) in a suit with pink rose petals floating all around him was the great promotional image. Here is the tee shirt "What a Piece of Work is Man"

So Hamlet, for three hours and more, was riveting as both contemporary and classical. When Claudius, the step father/king, sees the play that accuses him of murder he throws up in a modern black toilet, front stage center. I haven't ever seen a toilet onstage featured before. ( And of course, OSF has no problem with anachronisms, they love them).

The next day we saw Throne of Blood. This was Macbeth based on Kirosawa's adaptation in film, based on his relocation of it to ancient Japan and Noh drama with its reductive movements, sounds, and gestures. It was multimedia with a huge floating screen above the stage with stunning graphics and texts. Not to mention the set and the music. Evoking early Japan.

The dialog was an English translation of Kirosawa's clipped Japanese improvisation of the Macbeth story. So it was avant garde. It was intentionally not smoothly flowing, which I didn't get at first. I thought it was an awful lot of layers, Scottish king in English play, adapted by Japanese film director, re adapted by Chinese director for American actors.
But visually it was phenomenal.

The last Macbeth that I saw was a feminist interpretation with the witches doubled in number and becoming a covey around Lady Macbeth. In this version, there was a Forest spirit who seemed to be bisexual, and only "Lady Macbeth", now Lady Asaji  played brilliantly by Ako, an actress trained in Japan, who really knew about the Noh theatre that the actions in the play adopted. She bolted the whole play together, as a tiny figure in red in center stage radiating incredible power, apparently backstage as well, in her coaching of the actors on Noh movements

The same day we saw Merchant of Venice which has that famous character, Shylock, the Jewish moneylender in Venice. It was played for the first time in Ashland by a Jewish actor, and it was an opportunity for lots of education of the actors and the audience. He was the undisputed star of the show. "If you prick me, do I not bleed?" He could have been speaking for anyone unjustly persecuted and treated as less than human.

Next day we saw She Loves Me, a fun musical. It felt good to laugh and enjoy good singing. Apparently these Shakespearean actors can also sing.

The stage froze near the last act when the electricity went out in Ashland, just as the lead singer Lisa McCormick had finished a song about vanilla icecream. She sat down on her bed and said to us "want some, I think I am stuck."
Her bed was supposed to whoosh away.

Twelfth Night is everyone's favorite play. We saw it earlier this year at the Seattle Shakespeare Company. Amazingly, a lead in She Loves me, played Olivia in Twelfth Night on the same day. Olivia is the rich woman who falls in love with Viola/ Cesario as a boy, one of Shakespeare's favorite games. Viola is pretending to be a boy after being wrecked at sea and left almost on her own, also falls in love with Orsino, the wealthy prince in love with Olivia. So we had in the original Shakespeare, a boy playing a girl who become a boy, who is still a girl. In this play it was a girl being a boy, not so hard, but actually the love relationships required enormous skill.
And of course, Shakespeare was so far ahead of his time in all this playing with gender identities.
He has wonderful powerful women in all his plays too.

The next day we saw Pride and Prejudice. Beautifully performed and staged, superb acting. And the man who played the wastrel George Wickham became that same evening
Prince Hal in

When this play started out, it was a bit draggy, I thought this is why I never before appreciated the history plays of Shakespeare. Lots of people being slaughtered, narrated by boring characters. But once the Prince Hal scenes began, with the wonderful character Falstaff, carousing among the people with Hal, it was thrilling. An incredible marathon for the actors, including deaf actor Howie Seago, who was incorporated right into the play with signing ( he was also part of Hamlet, as the ghost, but with far fewer lines). The fight scenes were staggering, apparently the sword scenes are rehersed twice right before the show goes on every single time, once at half speed, once at full speed, and Prince Hal matched off with Hotspur, another extraordinary actor, Kevin Kennerly, who also played the lead,Washizu ("Macbeth") in Throne of Blood.
And then the very next morning we had Prince Hal for a back stage tour at 10am after a double bill the day before.
Final play was American Night, with Culture Clash from LA, again a new media production, with singing and probably 10 costume changes per actor. American history seen in a dream before Juan Jose takes his citizen exam. He meets all the people left out or the perspectives changed, or the events excised, or the people who should have been included or not included. It was a brilliant romp and a telling political statement, going all the way up to the Gulf Oil Spill and the Tea Party, racist anti immigrationists in the present. Here is an interview with Richard Montoya about this play.

Apparently, I picked the right year to start coming to Ashland. Bill Rauch is from the heart of the LA alternative theater scene, and he is bringing in people, ideas, and vibes from that scene. It is really exciting.
So that was our marathon in Ashland.

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