Tag Archives: Oregon Shakespeare Festival

O where, o where has our little blog gone?

"Portrait of an Extraordinary Musical Dog," oil on canvas (presumed), by the British artist Philip Reinagle, R.A. Dated 1805. From the collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Image courtesy of janeaustensworld blog.

By Bob Hicks

You out there, you poor wayfaring strangers stranded at the offramp of the Information Superhighway with a flat tire or a blown gasket or a speeding ticket from a Washington State Trooper who had his radar gun pointed the wrong way but also had a quota to fill and liked the looks of your out-of-state license plates …

Oh, wait. That’s us.

Months ago, in another cyber age, it seemed as if we were punching pithy posts onto this site with precipitous regularity, exploring the inner recesses of our odd obsessions and the outer recesses of the culture at large. And people visited. Like Elvis of Nashville and Jesus of Nazareth we even had “followers,” although we preferred to think of them as congenial partners in crime. Are any of you still here? Have you remained faithful, or at least hopeful? Or have we twittered your allegiance away?

Where has the summer gone, and why have we so adamantly exercised our right to remain silent?

Truth is, there’s been nothing adamant about it: It just sort of turned out that way. Life got hectic, kids were released from their school jail cells, travels beckoned, and our habit of recording our contemplations in this semi-public forum took it in the shorts. Don’t go away: We’ll try to do better from here on in.

To catch you up a bit, here are a few highlights of things we did and mostly didn’t write about.

Continue reading O where, o where has our little blog gone?

Shakespeare and the measure of virtue

Angelo (René Millán) will have his way with Isabela (Stephanie Beatriz). Photo: David Cooper/Oreon Shakespeare FestivalDavid Cooper/OSF

By Bob Hicks

The central problem for modern audiences in Shakespeare’s “problem play” Measure for Measure is this: Why doesn’t Isabella just give up her virginity to save her brother’s life? Offensive and transgressive as it would be — what the power-abusing Angelo essentially proposes is mercy at the price of rape — how, in a world of situational ethics, is that a greater harm than allowing her brother to be executed when she could have saved his life? And why, subsidiarily, is Isabella then looked on as such a paragon of virtue that Vincentio, the wise and just Duke of Vienna, proposes at the end of the play to marry her himself? Is she not, by valuing mere chastity over a supposedly beloved brother’s life, the play’s true monster?

Problem, indeed.

I find the suggestion of an answer in The Embarrassment of Riches, Simon Schama’s lauded 1987 investigation of Dutch character and culture during that country’s Golden Age, which overlapped and carried beyond Shakespeare’s own Elizabethan/Jacobean times. Schama calls his opening chapter The Mystery of the Drowning Cell, and recounts the story of a system of punishment that may have been used often, or only rarely, or not at all: perhaps it was just a rumor to keep the citizens in line. Prisoners who were too lazy to work, according to several historical reports, were placed in a dank room in Amsterdam that was slowly flooded with water. Their choice was stark: get busy pumping the water out, or drown. Schama casts the story as a crucial metaphor for the Dutch dilemma of the landscape, a physical space that demands constant vigilance if its inhabitants are to keep from being inundated by the waters of the sea: “To be wet was to be captive, idle and poor. To be dry was to be free, industrious and comfortable. This was the lesson of the drowning cell.”

In other words: sometimes extremes mean more than they mean.

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J.C. & the Pirates: Ashland hits its stride

Mark Antony (Danforth Comins) grieves for his dead Caesar (Vilma Silva). Photo: Jenny Graham.Jenny Graham/OSF

By Bob Hicks

Sunday was one of those days when Ashland repays all its debts and reminds you why you make the pilgrimage in the first place. The Scatters did a two-fer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival: an enthralling Julius Caesar in the round at the compact New Theatre in the afternoon, a warm and comically capacious Pirates of Penzance on the outdoor Elizabethan Stage in the evening.

If you haven’t read or seen Julius Caesar since that unfortunate high-school freshman English class a few years back, take heart. Nothing didactic or dutiful here: this is storytelling at its most elemental and joyous. Director Amanda Dehnert’s production takes advantage of a lot of the bells and whistles that the festival’s prodigiously talented technical staff can muster, but the heart of the show is squarely in the acting and the script. It’s stripped-down theater, strategically rebuilt.

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OSF beats the curse of the Scottish play

"Love's Labor's Lost" at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, 2011. Photo: T. Charles Erickson/OSFT. Charles Erickson/OSF

By Bob Hicks

Mr. Noah, will this downpour never end?

The Scatters have disembarked in Ashland, Oregon, hometown of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Ashland is in the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains, a prodigious distance from Mount Ararat, and also a fair trot from the creeping trees of Birnam Wood. Yet the festival must be wondering just whose curse has descended on it this summer, and when that wandering dove is going to return with the olive branch in its beak. As the puckish Marty Hughley commented, somebody down here must have actually uttered the title of The Scottish Play.

At about 7:15 on Friday evening, the lights went out in the little pink rental house where the Scatters are staying on the south end of town. Lights, clocks, fans, air-conditioner. Mr. Scatter ambled next door to see if anyone knew what was up.

“Excuse me,” he said. “Are your lights out?”

He was speaking to a smiling woman relaxing on a porch chair with her legs tucked beneath her. “Yeah,” she said. “The whole neighborhood’s hit.” She paused and gazed southwest. “Storm coming in from the coast,” she said. “Better just sit back and enjoy the show.”

By “show,” she didn’t mean The Imaginary Invalid. She meant the fireworks she hoped would soon be visible in the sky.

A little later the Scatters hopped into the Scattermobile and motored downtown toward the festival grounds. All the traffic lights were out. All the lights in all the houses and shops were out. The word “neighborhood” was beginning to take on a larger than usual meaning.

They approached the big white tent where they were going to see Moliere’s Invalid. Curtain time was approaching. Still no power. The Scatters began to get nervous. Had the Ashland curse bitten again?

Continue reading OSF beats the curse of the Scottish play

Caution: Blogjacking in progress

By Laura Grimes

Quick. Mr. Scatter is on the road, so let’s post while he’s not looking.

Some people call. Some people text. I believe in the more sneaky form of communication — surprise blog posts broadcast to the world. Consider them entertainment and information all scrolled into one.

Dear Mr. Scatter,

What’s news since you left this morning?

Holy hot tub, I received an email with the below attached picture of a souvenir for the upcoming royal wedding (it’s good to have friends in low places). If you can’t tell, they’re tea bags.

Royal tea bags

Continue reading Caution: Blogjacking in progress

Tracy Letts, the ‘Superior’ actors’ writer

Bill Geisslinger and Vin Shambry in "Superior Donuts" at Artists Rep. Photo: Owen Carey.

By Bob Hicks

When you see the killer-good performances in Artists Repertory Theatre‘s current hit Superior Donuts, remember this: Tracy Letts is an actor. And when actors write plays, they write them with actors in mind.

Letts, the Steppenwolf Theatre stalwart who won the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for his 2008 family drama August: Osage County, has a long history with Artists Rep, which has also produced his plays Bug and Killer Joe and commissioned his adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters. In each case, viewers argued about the literary quality of the scripts, but most everyone agreed they made for terrific performances.

Which brings up an interesting point: If a script creates juicy roles, doesn’t that mean it’s a good script? If it gives actors the opportunity to do the things actors do best, is that somehow different from literary quality? Or is performance its own thing?

Continue reading Tracy Letts, the ‘Superior’ actors’ writer

Bill Patton, gentleman and scholar: 1927-2011

By Bob Hicks

Sad news today from Ashland: William Patton, the main man behind the scenes at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival from 1953 until his retirement in 1995, has died. Bill was 83 and had been in failing health for some time. A true Southern Oregonian, he was born in Medford and lived in the Rogue Valley most of his life.

Bill Patton in 1989/Oregon Shakespeare FestivalThe mythology of the festival is that actor/director/artistic leader Angus Bowmer was the founding visionary, and he was. It was Bowmer who got things going in 1935, and when I began to go to the festival in the late 1960s and 1970s he was still around, still a quiet eminence, still a prominent spirit around the place.

But Patton, as general manager and later executive director, was already well established as the calm, steady hand who kept things rolling, who bridged the gap between festival and community by being an integral part of both, who paved the way for revolutionary changes by making sure that the present was always on an even keel. (He first showed up at the festival in 1947, and even did some acting in the early years.)

Bill was a gentleman in the truest sense of the word, always honest, always understated, devoted to the festival and its people and the audiences he considered part of the family. He was by nature a conservative man — I am not speaking politically here — who would think and think and think a thing through, and once he’d made up his mind, do what he thought good and necessary. No artistic leader could have asked for a better partner: Without Bill Patton, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival would not be the remarkable institution it is today.

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On beyond Twelfth Night: upstaged

"Malvolio and the Countess," 1859. Daniel Maclise (1806-1870), engraved by R. Staines. Wikimedia Commons.

By Bob Hicks

Yes, it’s over. Today is January 6, Epiphany, the day after Twelfth Night, traditional final day of the Christmas season, complete with twelve lords a-leaping and a partridge in a pear tree. Salute them in the rear view mirror, say a fond farewell, and let’s move on.

The diarist Samuel Pepys seemed more than ready to turn his attentions elsewhere on January 6, 1663, when he recorded this among other observations of the day: “So to my brother’s, where Creed and I and my wife dined with Tom, and after dinner to the Duke’s house, and there saw Twelfth Night acted well, though it be but a silly play, and not related at all to the name or day.”

Design by Rachel Ann Lindsay; Typography by Michael Buchino; Art direction by Francesca RestrepoPepys had notoriously little patience for Shakespeare and his fripperies. What might he have thought, then, of Constance Congdon’s adaptation of Moliere’s The Imaginary Invalid, with David Margulies as the hypochondriacal Argan? We haven’t seen it (it opens next Friday, January 14, as Portland’s theater Second Season picks up speed) but the whispers blowing in from backstage are that it’s heavy on the flatulence jokes. Ah, the holy trinity of bodily-function comedy: Beavis and Butthead, South Park, Moliere.

Second Season gets off and running Friday night when Artists Repertory Theatre opens Tracy Letts’s Superior Donuts. The cast includes Bill Geisslinger and Linda K. Alper, a couple of top-rank actors from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, which opens its new season in late February. And the crossovers continue. OSF opens its production of Letts’s biggest hit, August: Osage County, in April. And the festival opens its own version of The Imaginary Invalid — this one adapted by Oded Gross and director Tracy Young, with the excellent David Kelly as Argan — in February.

Continue reading On beyond Twelfth Night: upstaged

97 Hamlets, going on 116 — this year

Dan Donohue as Hamlet at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Photo: David CooperMrs. Scatter has unearthed this piece by Bill Varble in the Medford Mail Tribune about Alex Ainsworth, 12, of Ashland, who at the time of the story had seen the Oregon Shakespeare Festival‘s current Hamlet 97 times and was shooting for 116 — Hamlet No. 100 is due Wednesday. Amazing! Why so many times? “You learn more,” she told Varble.

Our own take on OSF’s Hamlet and Dan Donohue’s remarkable title performance is here. But we’re guessing Ainsworth could teach us a thing or three about the show.

Dan Donohue as Hamlet at OSF. Photo: David Cooper

Ashland 5: Hal, Jose, a throne of blood

Lord Kuniharu gathers his generals to hear the news of the rebellion. Ensemble. Photo by Jenny Graham.

By Bob Hicks

Art Scatter interrupts its regular programming to bring you a message from the future: It’s not your Daddy’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival anymore.

Not entirely, anyway. You remember the “Ashland style.” Elizabethan costumes on the Elizabethan Stage, broad low comedy breaking up flights of earnest declamation, lines delivered clearly and concisely so you understand the purpose if not always the interior fever of the plays. For decades the festival has made a virtue of old-fashioned verity, and if that’s the way you like it — a goodly number of people do — this season’s Henry IV, Part I is for you: an unruly time bomb of a Prince Hal (John Tufts), a broken-down and overpadded blowhard of a Falstaff (David Kelly), a hot and hardy Hotspur (Kevin Kenerly). This is Shakespeare in the festival tradition, solid as a burgher, tried and true.

And suddenly, that makes it feel almost anachronistic.

Prince Hal (John Tufts, left), heir to the throne, finds the company of Sir John Falstaff (David Kelly) preferable to court. Photo by Jenny Graham.The festival is changing, reinventing itself in front of our eyes. It’s not a revolution, it’s a profound evolution: Ashland has joined the 21st century. This season’s fruit of reinvention includes American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose, a smart and often uproarious piece of agitprop by Richard Montoya and Culture Clash; and Throne of Blood, a visually ravishing stage adaptation by the masterful Ping Chong of Akira Kurosawa‘s 1957 film masterpiece, which was itself a radical reimagining of Macbeth.

That’s on top of a Hamlet with hip-hop overtones and an utterly charming She Loves Me, the exemplar so far of artistic director Bill Rauch’s devotion to the stage musical as a legitimate and important branch of the theatrical family tree. Watching this year’s Henry IV, Part I is edifying and at times even exciting, but it isn’t all that different from taking in an Ashland Shakespeare in 1975 or 1995. American Night, Throne of Blood, Hamlet and She Loves Me? It’s a whole new festival, baby.

Continue reading Ashland 5: Hal, Jose, a throne of blood