Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Theater Overdose

This weekend we kind of tested whether it is possible to get too much theater. The venue was the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and this was our second long weekend trip there this summer. Back in June we took the whole family, and we each saw three or four plays over three days. That was pretty nice. This time was a bit more intense. With our daughter away at summer camp, my wife and my mother-in-law and I managed to see six plays in three days.

The good news is: no problem! We really enjoyed all six plays. The bad news is...um...I guess we got pretty tired. Really, it was quite stunning how good it was. Six good plays.

We drove up Thursday night after work, and aside from some road work that slowed us down, it was a smooth, easy drive. Arriving about 1:00 am, we decided to sleep late Friday morning, which was fine, as we didn't have anywhere to be until our first play at 1:30 pm.

Quick breakfast at Brothers (with enough leftovers for at least one more breakfast), including very delicious scones, then off to the theater.

The first play on the docket was "The African Company Presents Richard III," a quite fascinating historical piece about an African-American theater company in New York City in the 1820s, presenting high-quality productions on a shoestring budget and its interactions with some rival, mainstream theaters. Very solid production, thought-provoking and interesting. The character "Papa Shakespeare" was particularly good, especially his scene being a "griot" translator.

After a tasty dinner at Tabu, we returned to see "Love's Labor's Lost" in the outdoor Elizabethan theater. That was a fun, solid production of one of Shakespeare's earliest plays. One one hand, you can see it's not as polished a script as some of the later works. On the other hand, the word play is rampant, which makes it particularly fun.

One thing I'm starting to appreciate about OSF is that they are a true repertory company. Not only do they use many of the same actors season after season and for different plays over the course of the season, the schedule is such that an actor may play roles in multiple plays in the same day. There were several who appeared in both of our Friday plays, including Charles Robinson, who had played "Papa Shakespeare" in the afternoon, and then appeared as Sir Nathaniel, the Curate in LLL. With much less makeup in the latter play, I finally recognized him from his role on the TV show "Night Court." Funny guy, and a fine stage actor, which is not always the case for TV actors.

Saturday we slept in again, then went back to the theater to see "Julius Caesar" in the New Theater, the smallest and most intimate of the OSF venues. This was an extremely cool production, performed in the round (or square, really), with the players rarely leaving the stage, taking seats in or near the audience. It was a very powerful experience, especially since we were in the front row (I think there are only 7-8 rows, anyway). With the actors dressed in contemporary costumes and talking with us before the show started (among other things, Cassius warned us that we were potentially in the "splash zone," but that the fake blood has detergent in it, so it should wash right out), it drew us right in, and with the scenes playing out literally in our faces, and characters sitting right next to us. I admit it's a bit unnerving to have Ceasar's ghost sitting right at my elbow. She (yes, she) was intense.

I would say that performance was the highlight (among many great experiences) of the weekend.

Jan went for a massage after the play, and we met up later at the Caldera Tap Room (outstanding beers, rather slow service) for beer, burgers, and sweet potato fries. Then back to the theater for "Measure for Measure." Really good production, cool staging, set in the 1970s. Lucio is portrayed as a jive pimp. And it works.

Sunday arrives, and we're back to the New Theater for "Ghost Light," a new play that we're also going to see next season at Berkeley Repertory Theater. It was, in a word, fabulous. It was particularly poignant to those of us who lived through the triggering event and aftermath, and probably more so to those of us who lost our fathers at a young age, too. This is a great, great play, and I look forward to seeing it again.

And finally, we concluded with "August: Osage County." It's really a tour de force and a marathon. It's disturbing and kind of vicious, and at times hilarious. It takes 3.5 hours and two intermissions, but it was really good.

So, a few of conclusions at the end of the weekend:
  • OSF has amazing actors, and this season, some incredible plays. We love going to the theater, but we're usually resigned to the notion that some fragment of the shows we go to will just not click for us. I saw ten shows in Ashland this year, and all were good, and some amazingly so.
  • Normally at the theater, especially when I'm tired, I find myself glancing at my watch to see how long until the end of the act, play, etc. Not once this weekend, through six plays, did I even think of doing that. In fact, I was generally surprised when intermission arrived, having been so immersed in the play that time had flown by. Similarly, by the end, although I could tell that the plot had been resolved and such, it seemed impossible that I had actually sat through 3+ hours already. That, to me, is a sign of great theater.
  • Finally, I am forever amazed at the skill and versatility of the actors at OSF. At one point, we realized we'd see the same actor in three consecutive plays, with fairly major roles in two of them. Just amazing.

As you can tell, we had a great weekend. I have to conclude at this point that with high enough quality plays, I can pretty much sit through as much as the theater will provide. And that summarizes our second weekend at OSF this year. Great stuff. I'd go back in a heartbeat, but will have to wait until next year.

3 comments:

Houston Dunleavy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Houston Dunleavy said...

From an actor's perspective, given the paucity of a salary most of us/them (depending what time of year it is) make from the theatre, there really is NO such thing as too much of it ;)

Of course, we'd also like to have many,many audience members like your good self :D so, if you can make, Laura's "The Death Of Albatross" (in which I seem to have scored a chunky role) opens at the Seymour Centre in Sydney on 8th September for four perofrmances :) We'll leave the light on for you!

Love to you all

Chard said...

Obviously, I would love to be there, both for the play and for the pure joy of being back in Oz. Unfortunately, I'm stuck in the U.S. for the time being.

One other comment about the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We took a backstage tour on our first visit this year, guided by one of the actors in the company. In the course of the discussion, he mentioned what a luxury it is to be part of that company, where they pay a suffient salary that he and his wife can afford to buy a house, and have a contract that provides enough security to settle down in one place and really focus on his work.

In a world where artists have to scratch and scramble for any little crumbs they can find, it's nice to know there are a few oases where tey can really thrive.