Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sicily and OSF Reviews

Before I post my reviews of the shows we saw up in Ashland at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I thought I had better get those photos of Sicily up on the Flickr site.  Mission accomplished, please click HERE.  We had a marvleous time at Mimmo's house and enjoyed his marvelous hospitality as well as that of his friends, who prepared two of the best dinners - Thank you Luisa, Massimo, AnnaMaria, Tomas, Mimmo and Mimmo's sister, whose name I don't want to mangle here.  We also took a trip to the ancient city of Erice, which is like a Camelot in the mists.  That's JK at the castle gates.  It was closed unfortunately,

Because we took that time and prevailed upon JK's sister and brother to help look after their dad, Al, while we were traveling in Italy, our "time out"s will be short trips, like our sojourn to  Ashland to see a couple of shows at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  It's a 4.5 hour drive (when old leadfoot here is at the wheel) but we break it up and take turns driving. 

How do communities and people heal?  That is the central question addressed in Lisa Kron's Well, which is just ending its run (June 18th) at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, OR.  Kron, a native of East Lansing, Michigan, is best known for her one-woman shows which have garnered her praise and awards from New York to San Francisco. 

As you take your seat in the theare, there is a cosy living room set up with a recliner upon which dozes Kron's Mom, upstage.  Downstage we see a couple of metal  chairs and a few tables which have a vaguely antiseptic feel, as contrasted to the upstage area.  

The playwright is the central character in this self-described "meta-theatrical exploration of not just how her mother was able to heal an interracial community in East  Lansing, but not herself", but of the larger issues of how and why some people heal and others do not.  Throughtout the play the Kron character asserts that this isn't about her mother strictly, which of course makes one think she protesteth too much.

Kron has crafted scenes which reflect both the humor and the angst of growng up in the 60's in an interracial community mixed with scenes of her at an allergy clinic in Chicago, along with scenes where her mother butts in to correct her and make asides to the audience.  Kron also breaks the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience which is ironic that it's described in the program as an avant guarde theatrical technique because it's a well worn modus operandi from Shakespeare's time!

But make no mistake, this is not your typical "well-made" play narrative.  The structure loops around and comes back with the actors breaking character and beginning to play themselves.  But within this loosey-goosey framework we  begin to sense the seeds of truth.  And we laught at the humor of the mother-daughter relationship, which seemed to closely mirror the universal relationship between mother and daughter.

Director James Edmondson did a wonderful job bringing out the comedy as well as the pathos in this piece of theatre.  Acting standouts include Terri MaMahon as Lisa, Dee Maaske as her mother Ann and K.Y. Vogt in numerous roles.

Sometimes it's a risk seeing the first night of a preview, but not so with Twelfth Night playing at the outdoor Elizabethan Stage (also known as the Allen Pavilion) until October 8th.  Director Darko Tresnjak, who is new to OSF this year, has set the comedy in the late 18th Century, cuing off Orsino's line "If music be the food  of love, play on." - which reminded him of Mozart and the passions of that period typified by "Liaisons Dangerous".

While the costuming and many of the props hewed closly to this conceit, the set by David Zinn was a bit more problematic.  Instead of using the traditional design of  the Elizabethan, he constructed this towering struture that resembled something you might find at a skateboard park, which was covered in green astro turf.  It had a top section that could be unfolded to create a window space.  Linda Cho's costumes were both beautiful and playful while Jane Cox's lighting added the mood for each scene.

But those are the only distractions to a solid and laugh filled production of the Bard's tale of mistaken identity, misplaced love and revenge upon certain Puritanical ideals.  You could tell these actors were hungering for an  audience.  They played the play full bore with great physicality which illustrated the bawdy language, much to the delight of the busloads of high school age kids at the show.

We got solid performances from Kanajuan Bentley as Orsino and Miriam A. Laube as Olivia and the rest of the cast.  The most spectacular performance was Michael Elich as an almost Brechtian Feste, Olivia's fool.   Other standouts in the cast were Brooke Parks as Viola and Christopher Liam Moore as Malvolio.

I highly recommend both Well and Twelfth Night as being definately worth not only the ticket price, but the drive up to Ashland (4.5 hrs).  If you're looking for a place to stay, I can also recommend the Peerless Hotel, which is listed in the book "1,000 Places to See Before You Die".  The charming Victorian hotel has five guestrooms and two suites.  It has been lovelingly restored with art and antiques ranging from Victorian times to the 1920s.  The staff is gracious and kind and the restaurant next door is a sure winner with it's sophsiticated small plate menu and wine list.
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