Saturday, August 22, 2009

Another Dramatic Day

Following another delicious breakfast at Morning Glory (I had a coconut almond waffle with lemon butter...wonderful!) we headed off to a last busy day at the Shakespeare Festival. First was the afternoon with "All's Well that Ends Well." This was a good production, although not entirely to the liking of our 8-year-old. She got it, though. She and Grandma had done some studying last night while we were off seeing Henry VIII, so she knew what to expect. Some bits (particularly when the French king got a bit long-winded) were not really able to hold her interest.

I thought the play was pretty well done. My favorite actor was probably Lafew, who had wonderful stage presence and great, expressive eyes. The repertory aspect was in view again, as the Clown/narrator (an invention of the director, which worked well) turned out to be none other than Don Quixote from our first play of this trip. He was amusing in this role, and worked very hard, too.

After a brief stroll through the art and craft fair along Ashland Creek, we had some ice cream at Mix, then a quick visit to the Tudor Guild gift shop, as we wanted to pick up a couple of items.

We then dropped off Grandma and our daughter for a visit with some cousins, and Jan and I went to dinner. We started with a little wine tasting at the EdenVale Enoteca, but weren't too impressed with any of the wines. So we stolled off to dine at the Ashland Bistro Cafe, which was quite good. Jan's scallop carbonara was particularly good.

Then to the final play of this trip, "Equivocation." In many ways this was the perfect conclusion to the trip, and it particularly helped to have seen Macbeth and Henry VIII beforehand. All in all, it was outstanding, with a cast of six players, five of whom play many, many roles. I believe we had seen all of them in other productions during the week, notably Anthony Heald (who we'd previously seen as Mayor Shinn in The Music Man and Cardinal Wolsey in Henry VIII) as Shagspeare and Jonathan Haugen (Gardiner in Henry VIII) as (mostly) Robert Cecil.

Intense, thought-provoking, and clever, I thought this was the best play we saw overall, and probably worth the trip all by itself. Two big thumbs up!

Now the theater part of the trip is done, and we're driving home tomorrow. I doubt I'll have anything to write about that, but one never knows.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Wandering Through History

Today was largely a day off, with free time to explore town. Since we didn't have theater tickets until evening, we spent a leisurely morning at the house, then headed across town to try breakfast at Brother's. The breakfast was okay, nothing really special, but the hot chai was quite excellent and the house-made scones were stellar. Tomorrow we'll probably be back at Morning Glory, mostly because of proximity.

Since we were in town after breakfast, we decided it was time to venture into some of the used book stores. First stop, Book Exchange, which is my kind of bookstore: unpretentious, and obviously staffed by bibliophiles. All four of us had a grand time shopping around, and I think each of us came out with at least two books. I found a Fred Pohl book I was previously unaware of, and another book by Allen Steele. I definitely need to read more science fiction!

Next stop was a pilgrimage to the Dagoba Organic Chocolate outlet, just outside town. Dagoba makes tasty organic chocolate, and they have quite a bit out for tasting. The woman running the tasting room was friendly and knowledgeable, and went out of her way to give us tastes of a couple of things that were not already set out. We bought quite a few bars of different flavors, several of which we were previously unaware of.

On from there to what bills itself as the world's biggest, best-stocked game store, Fun Again. I guess they have a well-stocked warehouse behind the retail section, but the store itself is not huge (though it is very well-stocked). Ultimately we didn't decide to buy any games, but it was fun to look around.

Then across the parking lot to yet another (mostly) used book store, Bookwagon. I thought they had less overall selection than Book Exchange, and not nearly the ambiance, but we did manage to find several more books to buy. My favorite, which I stumbled across on the new arrivals rack, was a copy of John Muir's The Velvet Monkey Wrench. I learned most of what I know about automobiles from Muir's classic "How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive," so I've always been intrigued to read his Utopian prescription for living. We'll see how that turns out.

After a brief stopover at the house to rest up and change clothes, we ventured out to dinner. Somehow, after brunch and chocolate tasting, no one was all that hungry, but we knew we wouldn't survive the evening's play without sustenance. So we decided to try Greenleaf restaurant. The food was pretty ordinary, but might have seemed more impressive had we chosen to sit outside, along the creek. The BLT was worth eating, though.

And at last, off to the theater, where Jan and I saw "Henry VIII" at the Elizabethan Stage. It was quite impressive. We had to overcome a little cognitive dissonance, as the early scenes featured Buckingham, who last night was Professor Harold Hill, and Cardinal Wolsey, who was last night's tongue-tied mayor. Of course, this is both one of the joys and one of the drawbacks to a repertory company. It was momentarily distracting, but ultimately fine.

It's quite a staging of the play, majestic and full of pomp. In the end, I suppose the play is really more about Wolsey and Queen Katherine than about Henry, really (though he's obviously an important part). And more than any of the characters, it's about England and the struggle between the Catholic church and protestantism, which would quite literally tear at the fabric of the country for at least a couple more centuries. Of all the Shakespeare histories, this one might be the most complex in that it deals with such recent events at the time of its writing. (Forgive me if all this is obvious; I hadn't read or seen this play before tonight!)

Anyway, some very strong performances here. Wolsey was particularly good in the second act, when he's largely in monologue mode. He had some trip-ups in the first act with dialogue, but really shone in his solo spotlights. Katherine was quite powerful (although I thought he deathbed scene was probably the weakest part of the play). And Henry had his moments. I thought his silent scene during Katherine's speech at her trial was particularly good. He really conveyed a lot by his physical reactions.

All in all, a very worthy effort. We really enjoyed the play, and it hardly seemed to take an hour, much less two-and-a-half!

We ended the evening with a quick visit to Zoey's Cafe for ice cream. Very tasty gelato. I had the mystery rotator tonight, which was a chocolate and marshmallow with coconut. Very yummy!

One more long day tomorrow, with two plays, then we head home Sunday.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Study in Contrasts

Nice day today. A little cooler than yesterday (though still quite hot by my coastal standards). Yet another breakfast at Morning Glory, where I learned that gingerbread waffles are indeed as good as they sound on the menu!

Best news of the day is that my daughter's bee-stung foot is much, much better. Indeed, she's bouncing around as good as new. This makes for a much happier day for all!

Today was a two-play day for some of us, which is a lot of sitting in the theater, but the two plays couldn't be much more different, so that helped.

The afternoon play was "Macbeth." Macbeth and I go way back. I read it in high school English class, and have seen it produced a couple of times since, most memorably in the outdoor glade at Shakespeare Santa Cruz, back when I lived down that way. An outdoor, nighttime performance is a great setting for Macbeth, with all its witches and general mayhem.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival's rendition of Macbeth is somewhat updated, at least in costuming. And I frankly had a little trouble following all they were trying to do with the costumes. But the power and intensity of the play really comes through. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were tremendous, and gave a depth and variety to their performances that was intriguing and kept one's interest focused.

I should add a note about the superstition surrounding Macbeth. I gather some in the theater believe the play to be jinxed, and refuse to say the name of it out loud, just calling it "The Scottish Play." I find this amusing. I learned about the superstition from some friends in conjunction with another, while sitting at a baseball game. I made an oblique reference to the fact that a pitcher had not allowed any hits by the other team (I think it was about the fifth or sixth inning by then), and was soundly admonished by a neighbor that I was not to refer to such things, as I would jinx it. Another neighbor, overhearing, suddenly burst out with "It's the Scottish play! It's the Scottish play!" Took me a while to get the full explanation, and I was surprised to learn of this supposed jinx.

For what it's worth, I have still never seen a no-hitter live, and I'm sure some will blame the fact that I am willing to talk about the possibility, even while the game is still under way. But I don't believe in jinxes. Sorry for anyone disappointed by that.

In between we went to dinner at the Standing Stone Brewing Company, which has very good beer and quick enough service that we were able to make it up to the show with time to spare. The burgers were OK, but nothing special. We liked the sweet potato fries, of course.

In the evening we all went to see "The Music Man," which is obviously much lighter and more fun. The actor playing Professor Harold Hill was quite good, with a strong voice and good stage presence. He makes a fine con man! His counterpart playing Marion Paroo has a lovely voice, though perhaps not as clearly articulated as I might want (though I know the songs well enough that I didn't lose much). I have to say she also seems just a bit...well...old for the part. She's meant to be 26, and I peg her for quite a few years more than that. As Jan put it, a bit old to be playing the ingenue.

But the play just works. I like the staging, despite being a relatively small stage (indeed, the exact same stage on which we saw Macbeth just hours earlier). They manage to fill it without making it seem crowded, so the small town of River City seems fairly realistic (within stage conventions, of course). I also really liked the way the started with the whole town and its people being entirely gray and drab, with little bits of color introduced as Hill and his scheme take hold in town. By the end, the whole town is a gay festival, and the contrast is quite striking.

This is our first venture into Oregon Shakespeare Festival, but I gather that musicals are relatively rare here. If that's true, then I thought they did it quite well. The music was good, and most of the singing quite good. I thought the adaptation of the space to include a spot for the conductor to poke up was well done and unobtrusive. All in all, I really liked the way they were able to pop different scenes in without breaking the flow of the play.

So it was a day of very stark contrast between the plays, but interestingly, I found myself drawing more comparisons between Music Man and Don Quixote than with Macbeth. In part, I suppose it's because they touch on somewhat similar themes, each dealing with the difference (or lack thereof) between reality and imagination, or the ability of imagination and belief to shape reality. Ultimately, I guess that is a theme that resonates with me more than Macbeth's venture into ambition, prophecy, and gore. I thought Macbeth was the best performance of the three shows we've seen so far (with three more to go), and it will certainly stick with me. But I like the other two a lot more, if that makes sense.

All in all a good day, but a tiring one. Tomorrow is an easy day, with only an evening performance of "Henry VIII" for a couple of us. Then Saturday will be another two-play day. So I better get some rest!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hot as Hell in Ashland

We drove up to Ashland, Oregon, last night because we have a bunch of tickets to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. This is a particular treat, not only because it's our only family vacation for the summer, but also because Jan and I have been meaning to come up here for years, and only this year managed to arrange it.

So, first a few road trip notes, then we'll talk theater.

The drive up isn't too bad. We made it in 6.5 hours, including a stop for dinner and refueling. The first part is pretty much rote for us, as it's the same route we take to go skiing, but then branches northward through the central valley, and that was territory I've never driven, and only been a passenger on long, long ago. Might have been prettier in the daytime, but it was certainly cooler in the evening.

After an uneventful drive (with a soundtrack of the books-on-CD of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"), we arrived in Ashland just before 1:00 am, greeted enthusiastically by our daughter, who has been off traveling with Grandma for a couple of weeks. She gave us the grand tour of the little house we've swapped for, and eventually we all settled down and headed for bed.

Needless to say (I hope), we all slept in quite late in the morning, and after checking a few recommendations from my Facebook friends, headed out for the short walk to brunch at the Morning Glory Restaurant. That was a great find, especially as it is only about two blocks from the house. On the plus side, great food (marionberry syrup!!!) and nice service. On the minus side, it was flippin' HOT out. I mean, well into the 90s (F). Obnoxiously hot, really. No wonder they call the place Ashland--it's obviously all burned up long ago. Sheesh!

It being hot, some of us thought we ought to go out and find some way to cool off in the afternoon (and perhaps work off some of the big brunch). After checking out the nearby city park that has a small water play area (it looked way too hot, despite the water) we decided to head up to the reservoir outside town. The water level's pretty low, but it was a fun little swim for those (unlike yours truly) who had remembered to pack swim suits. I sat under a shade tree and read a book about avalanches.

All was well until after the swimming, when our daughter ran afoul of a bee or two, and got stung on two toes. Ouch! We managed to get some first-aid help from the park ranger, but decided it was best to head home, where some ice and rest seemed to make things better.

As we headed out to get some dinner before our first play, it became clear that additional first aid was necessary. The nearby Safeway pharmacy had nothing helpful, but we had ten minutes to get to the real pharmacy downtown, and we made it. They had some helpful salve and dressings, and all seemed in order. We got to the festival area, found a quick bite at Martino's (lobster ravioli!) and made it into the play with a few minutes to spare.

Tonight we were seeing "Don Quixote" at the open-air Elizabethan Stage. It's a nice theater, and I'm looking forward to seeing some actual Shakespeare there later in the week (Henry VIII, I think). It would be really hot in there in the daytime, but for an evening show it was great. Never having read or seen Don Quixote or any of its derivatives (I've heard the soundtrack to Man of La Mancha, but never seen it), I wasn't sure what to expect. And the more people told me, the more I questioned bringing an 8-year-old with us.

As it turned out, she didn't like it, and got quite bored early in the first act. She and Jan went out at intermission to explore the neighborhood, so Grandma and I watched the second act without them. They had a grand time checking out places, including the sweet shop, and met us at the end of the play with some cupcakes they'd gotten for free at closing time!

So, about the play. It's quite an interesting presentation. It captures well the difficulty of distinguishing reality from imagination, especially where fiction is involved. Many of the imaginary bits are played with puppets, many of which are clever and cute. The players walk a tight line between the clownish and the sincerely comical, and for the most part it works well. The character I found most interesting in many ways is the one labeled "The Cervantes Avatar," who keeps returning in various incarnations, often making awful puns.

It was fun (in spite of the boredom of the younger generation), and a fine introduction to the festival. Tomorrow we have two plays: Jan and I see "Macbeth" in the afternoon, and the whole family will see "The Music Man" in the evening.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Reform What, Exactly?

The most frustrating thing about the ongoing current "debates" over "health care reform" is that there isn't actually any discussion of reforming health care. At most, it's a discussion of health-care finance reform. But with the best option for that excluded. So maybe, just maybe, we could call it health insurance reform. But we won't, and people will get frightened that somehow this will get in the way of their relationship with their doctor. When in fact, the current insurance system does a lot more of that. My doctor complains all the time about all the paperwork he has to do in lieu of actually caring for patients.

Imagine that...we could fix the financing system so that doctors could spend more of their time and attention dealing with actual health care!

Yet another surreal moment in our political discourse.

Such as it is.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Police FAIL

Riding through downtown San Francisco yesterday on the way to a trade show at Moscone Center, we noticed what appeared to be some college-age guys riding on the back of a van. Not too smart that. As we got closer, we noticed a couple of things about this stunt: a) the riders were doing this without the knowledge or permission of the driver, and b) the van belongs to the SFPD.


Sorry about the finger in the picture. I only had a moment to fish out the phone and snap the photo; both cars were moving at the time.

My best guess is that this was a fraternity initiation or something similar. Riding the back bumper of a van through city traffic is extremely dangerous, of course, but just the sort of thing kids of that age would try. But on the back of a police van? And what does it say about the driver that she was unaware of what was going on? As the hipsters say on the Interwebs these days: FAIL.