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Oregon Shakespeare Festival

July 2011

Report for JULY 2011












            •Not about Harvey Milk: Ghost Light—The Aftermath of the Murder of Mayor Moscone…

            •Four-Venues in Two-Weeks: Tracy Letts’ August, Osage County Finds Its Groove!

            •Julia Caesar Returns to Haunt Brutus: A Great Woman Has Power Beyond-the-Grave.

            •All Hands on Deck! Cornish-Pirates Board the Good-Ship-Shakespeare!

            •Deaf-Signing in Henry IV, Part 2: Odd-Effect When Only Prince Hal & Poins Do It.

            •Get-Well-Quick-Card for Ashland’s Ailing Imaginary-Invalid?

            •American Theatre-Critics Do Their Thing: How Do I Get My Reviews on the Internet?





Arriving in Ashland for the Annual American Theatre-Critics Conference—after having seen Richard Wagner’s RING Cycle at the San Francisco Opera, with the Music-Critics of North-America—I was surprised when the Hotel-Concierge asked: "Will you get any tickets now that the Bowmer has been Closed?”


"The Bowmer-Theatre Closed? How can that be? We have tickets for two shows that are being performed there!”


Well, the immense Laminated-Beam that supported the Angus Bowmer Theatre’s Roof & much beneath it, as well, had cracked!


So August, Osage County had been performed in four different—very different—Venues in two weeks!


An ill-advised Musical-Revision of Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid had been temporarily moved to the Historic Ashland Armory, ill-fitted for any kind of performance other than Military-Drills.


But Not To Worry!


The Beam is undergoing RepairsEpoxy Heals All!—promising to be Stronger Than Ever!


Your Arts-Reporter & Editor Scott Bennett interviewed Richard Hay, who designed all three of the Oregon Shakespeare’s Performance-Venues.


This will soon be On-Line—Editing takes time—so you can hear all about fixing the Bowmer & designing all the Shakespeare-Canon in Ashland nearly Three-Times now. Dick Hay is aiming for The Guinness Book of Records.


For the Record: Dick Hay & I were Grad-Students in Theatre at Stanford-University way back in 1951-3. This is where he introduced me to Shakespeare in Ashland. I have been an admirer ever since…



New Plays:


Tony Taccone’s GHOST LIGHT  [★★★★★]



Old Plays in Revival:


Tracy Letts’ AUGUST, OSAGE COUNTY  [★★★★★]


Wm. Shakespeare’s JULIA CAESAR  [★★★★]


Wm. Shakespeare’s HENRY IV, Part 2  [★★]



New Musicals:


Oded Gross & Tracy Young’s THE IMAGINARY INVALID  [Minus ★★★]



Old Musicals in Revival:


Gilbert & Sullivan’s THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE  [★★★★]





Ghost-Light Burns Bright as Jon Moscone Tries To Lay the Ghosts of His Father’s Murder…


When the Violently Irish & Homophobic ex-Supervisor Dan White shot & killed Harvey Milk & San Francisco Mayor, George Moscone, he unintentionally created Two Martyrs.


Later, he hanged himself in his Garage.


But Tony Taccone’s new play, Ghost Light, is not about SF’s Openly-Gay-Supervisor, Harvey Milk.


Instead, it’s a Flash-Backed-Meditation on the possible Meaning of Moscone’s Murder, inspired by his own Gay-Son, Jonathan Moscone, who has become a Stage-Director!


Moscone has even staged Ghost Light, brilliantly, for a Stage-Light that stays on all night in an Empty-Theatre.


Not only does the Audience get repeated-replays of the Funeral, replete with a Casket into which the young Jon finally climbs, but—in Jon Moscone’s efforts to conflate his Own-Fate with that of Hamlet, who he is considering evoking in a Stage-Production—he even auditions some Hilarious Would-Be-Ghosts, including a Bunraku-Puppet-Team.


This is a Play about Discovering Who You Are—even standing in the Long-Shadow of a Dead-Father—but also consummately about the Arts of the Theatre.


Moscone is played young by Tyler James Myers & older, but not so much wiser, by the remarkable Christopher Liam Moore, who also staged Tyler Letts’ August, Osage County.


This show—designed by Todd Rosenthal [scenic-environments], Meg Neville [costumes], & Christopher Akerlind [lighting]—seems Broadway-Bound!


The whole cast works very well together. Danforth Comins—a wily Marc Antony in Julia Caesar—is a confused Hustler in Ghost Light.


Robynn Rodriguez is excellent as Moscone’s Designer-Friend, Louise: Is Something Really Rotten in the State of Denmark? Was Old King Hamlet also Corrupt?


Is Moscone Hamlet? Or should he Get-Over His Father’s Murder?


Well, Shakespeare—or Someone—said It: THE PLAY’S THE THING…



More Light in August: Tracy Lett’s Dysfunctional-Family-Drama More Powerful on Small-Stage!


On Broadway, the varied, conflicting, & complicated Family-Interactions, in Tracy Letts’ August, Osage County, occurred in the three-story-frame of an old home on the Plains.


As some of the scenes seemed to Overlap, it was often difficult to discern what was really happening, other than that the foul-mouthed Mother-Familias was a Drug-Addict.


Your Reporter also found a number of the Dysfunctional-Characters to be uncomfortably similar to his own Dysfunctional-Family.


Having already seen this play in several other Regional-Theatre-Incarnations—you have a Broadway-Hit & Everyone wants to do it!—I was not looking forward to seeing it in Ashland. Even in the Bowmer, where a three-story House-Frame would be impossible to construct.


When it reached the new Tent-Theatre in Lithia-Park—after three other venues, including the Bowmer—it finally seemed Just Right, functioning effectively on two-levels, not three


Broadway-designer Neil Patel deserves full-credit, along with the Lighting of James F. Ingalls & the Costumes of Alex Jaeger for making the Oppressive-Environment so Ordinary.


Cheers for the Entire-Cast, but especially for Catherine E. Coulson as the hysterical & domineering Mattie Fae Aiken.


Also cheers for Richard Elmore as the Suicide-Prone One-Slim-Book Poet, Beverly Weston, as well as his violently Surviving-Wife, Violet, savagely played by Judith-Marie Bergan.



All Hail! Julia Caesar! Woman’s-Movement Candidate Declines Imperial-Crown!


In the Courtyard of the New-Theatre—as well as inside the Foyer—there are Bold Black Banners [black on white] deploring the Political-Assassinations of a Variety of Rulers, Dictators, Freedom-Fighters, & Would-Be Reformers, from Antiquity to the Present.


What do Marie Antoinette & Che Guevara have In-Common?


Maybe Marie is closer to the Murdered-in-her-Motorcade Benazir Bhutto? Marie was in a Tumbrill, after all…


Anyway, both plays in the New are about Murdered-Leaders. So One Banner Fits All?


It’s well known that Shakespeare—or Marlowe, or Edward de Vere, or Sir Francis Bacon—didn’t write many Roles for Women.


Of course, in Antiquity & the Elizabethan-Era, few Women got to stride the World’s Stage. Except as Ultimate-Victims: See Cleopatra


Director Amanda Dehnert has rectified that Oversight. Her Julia Caesar stars the affecting Vilma Silva, an Iron-Hand in a Velvet-Glove, afflicting her Murderers even after her Death.


This Adaptation works very well, in a stripped-down production designed by Richard Hay, costumed by Linda Roethke, & lit by Robert Peterson.


The Noble Brutus is Jonathan Haugen, with the envious Cassius, Gregory Linington. In his justly-celebrated Funeral-Oration, Danforth Comins moves the Masses.



You Cannot Get to Henry V, Without a Stop at the Boar’s Boring Tavern!


Usually, when you know there are to be Deaf-Folks in the Audience—which, by its very composition, infers Hearing—you will announce the presence of Signers in front of the stage.


But, when Poins began Signing to his pal, Prince Hal, I thought this Casting must be, somehow, Different.


Only by reading the Program Bio of Howie Seago, did I learn that he had been associated with the National Theatre of the Deaf. [I used to report on this Estimable-Ensemble, when it was promoted by Scenic-Designer David Hayes.]


Fortunately, John Tufts, as the Future-King, Henry V, said his own lines, plus those of Poins…


Unfortunately, much of the Dialogue, in this odd staging by Lisa Peterson, sounded like Stratfordian-Mush.


As for the Tavern-Scenes, they were exhausting just to behold. Too Much Unnecessary-Movement. To what Purpose?


Of course, if you are determined to Produce the Entire-Canon, as well as Henry V—you have got to get through Henry IV, Part 2


For Admirers of the Character of Sir John Falstaff—of whom the Virgin-Queen, Elizabeth, was said to be one—the Play puts Falstaff on Display. Michael Winters did not disappoint…


But Falstaff’s much more Fun in Merry Wives of Windsor, isn’t he?



Is This New Musical Sick, Or What? Is It Invalid to Musicalize Moliere’s Invalid?


It wasn’t a Good-Idea to set Molière to Music, even when this was done by no less a Team than Richard Strauss & Hugo von Hofmannsthal.


Their Complete-Musicalization of Le Bourgeoise Gentilhomme lasts almost five hours. Only Ariadne auf Naxos really survives in performance. The Juilliard-School actually staged the entire work some seasons ago. It was Not a Revelation


Nonetheless, the Odds-Against-Success did not daunt Tracy Young & the aptly-named Oded Gross.


They "adapted” the Satiric-Comedy—Mocking the Docs of Molière’s Day—with Original-Music by Paul James Prendergast, who also helped with the Lyrics.


This was an Ashland World-Premiere.


It’s devoutly to be hoped that What Happens in Ashland, stays in Ashland. Unless it’s something by Ping Chong or Tony Taccone


The Opening-Number was promising. But it was all Downhill & cheap Vaudeville-Jokes from there on in.


Doctor! Your Invalid is really Sick



Not the Good-Ship-Lollypop: Penzance-Pirates Sail the Seas in an Elizabethan-Theatre!


The Best-Thing about introducing Operettas & Musicals to America’s First-Elizabethan-StagePirates of Penzance seems the First to try the Water—is that these Beloved-Genres offer a Relief from Shakespeare.


Or from Marlowe, if you believe Old Will of Stratford couldn’t even write his own name the same way twice


What really made this Gilbert & Sullivan Crowd-Pleaser work so wonderfully on the Quasi-Globe Open-Stage was the almost-instantaneous way in which the stage became a Pirate-Ship!


Festival-Artistic-Director Bill Rauch ingeniously employed all Playable-Aspects & then some of this famed Stage-Form to Hilarious-Effect. Scenic-designer Michael Ganio deserves Shared-Credit for the Visual-Astonishments.


Although Ashland—like other Bardic-Fests—does try to make Shakespeare Relevant to Modern-Audiences, especially Younger-Viewers, Rauch believes that "Our Boundary-less Society” isn’t quite What It Seems: That our most Profound & Invidious Divisions are actually CLASS-BASED!


Well, even today, you wouldn‘t want to marry-off your Radcliffe-Educated-Daughter to a Somali-Pirate, would you?


Even if they were All Orphans?


The Major Casting-Problem when Theatre-Reps try to mount an Operetta is the lack of Trained-Singing-Voices in the Ensemble.


Fortunately, the Radiant-Voice & Glowing-Personality of Khori Dastoor as Mabel saves the Day. She is a real Star!


Her Five-Sisters—despite their handsome costumes, by Deborah M. Dryden, with Bustles for All—pale in comparison…


But their Bustles make some amusing Randy Duncan Choreography possible.


What makes this Ashland Production even more of a Crowd-Pleaser than WS Gilbert may have had in mind are, in fact, the various Song & Dance Adaptations to current Musical-Fads. The Audience goes Wild. Repeatedly…


Visually-evoking Johnny Depp, the Pirate-King of Michael Elich is a Winner.


It was also good to see again that Ashland-Veteran, Robin Goodrin Nordli, as the Piratical-Ruth.



You Do Not Have To See Everything on the Program!


Also On-Offer for ATCA Members in Ashland were these productions: Measure for Measure, Love’s Labors Lost, To Kill a Mockingbird, & The African Company Presents Richard III.


I was sorry to have missed the latter, which dealt with early efforts of African-American Actors in mid-19th-century Manhattan to perform Shakespeare’s dramas, as well as other classical & contemporary fare, when Racists made every effort to frustrate & suppress them.


Black-Actors were not allowed to perform on White-Stages, with White-Actors. This Rule held for a very long time, not only in New York, but across America.


The famous American-born Shakespearean-Tragedian, Ira Aldrich—noted in this play—had to make a Career in Europe, where his Fame became Legendary.


Ira Aldrich—on his way to perform The Bard in St. Petersburg for the Tsar—played in Polish Lodz, falling ill & dying there, where he is buried in the Main-Cemetery.


To this day, Polish-Actors still place a White-Carnation on Aldrich’s Grave!


In Lodz for an Opera-Festival, Your Reporter made several Archival-Photographs of this Gravesite



Performing-Arts News & Notes:


Once a year, the American Theatre-Critics Association descends upon some welcoming American-City or Festival-Venue to see Play-Productions, actually Review them, & discuss the Problems of Writing-Theatre-Reviews & creating Dramatic-CriticismNot the Same-Thing!—at a time when Print Is Dying!


Thus, some time was spent in Ashland discussing How To Get On-Line!


Formerly, Member-Representatives from Major-Cities—with Major-Newspapers—got their Papers, Chambers-of-Commerce, & all the Local-Theatres to agree to welcome ATCA, providing at least a Formal-Dinner, Free-Tickets, Panels, Goodie-Bags, & Museum-Visits


Now, with so many Major-Newspapers No More—even The Christian Science Monitor has ceased to publish a Daily-Newspaper—some former Major-Members have effectually disappeared, as their Services were Terminated


Nonetheless, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was eager to accommodate ATCA, as Our Members had helped it win a Tony™ & given it wide publicity.


Chicago is to be the Venue in 2012, thanks to Jonathan Abarbanel, who has brought ATCA to the Windy-City before!


In Ashland, ATCA also announced Caridad Svich as the winner of the $10,000 Francesca Primus Prize.


Svich won with her admirable adaptation of Isabel Allende’s novel, The House of the Spirits.


This was initially shown at the Denver New-Play-Summit, where Your Arts-Reporter & Editor Scott Bennett were recently able to interview this fascinating Playwright.


The drama may be seen in Repertory, in Spanish, in Manhattan, at the Repertorio Español, in New York’s oldest "Little-Theatre,” the Gramercy-Arts-Theatre.

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