Saturday, July 07, 2012

Good Theater and Great Food

In our annual attempt to determine whether it is possible to see too much theater, I am scheduled to see eight plays over four days this trip to Ashland. As I write this, I've made it through six, and although all have been good, nothing has really knocked my socks off as have at least some plays in recent years.

Thursday we tried to go to Morning Glory for brunch, but they said the wait time was over an hour, so we hiked across town and got a relatively quick table at Brothers' instead. The family got reacquainted with the cheese blintzes, and I had a more-than-passable chorizo and eggs and one of their signature scones.

Thus fortified, we headed off to see Romeo and Juliet. Very interesting setting of the play, in Alta California in the 1840s. I thought that worked quite well. Solid performances throughout. We took our daughter, who is 11, to see it. Though it was pretty intense, she liked it. We hadn't originally planned to take her, but got the opportunity when we found extra tickets available for that show and also for another play later in the trip that had been sold out. Anyway, good, solid Shakespeare.

Our friends arrived to spend the rest of the week/end with us, and we had dinner reservations at Smithfield's, a meat-centric restaurant that opened since our last visit last year. Oh, boy, was that a treat! Hanger steaks, pork chops, duck confit cassoulet, all excellent. In fact, we liked it so well that we canceled our reservation elsewhere for Friday to do another meal at Smithfield's, as well as booking Saturday brunch. I have to say, this is the best food I've found in Ashland, truly outstanding.

In the evening we all went to see "As You Like It" in the outdoor theater. That was really good. Again, nothing particularly spectacular, but a good introduction for our friends. We went to the Preface before the show, and got some good insights for things to look for.

Friday began with pastries from a local bakery, followed by the daily stroll to town, but early for a backstage tour. Although parts were repetitive from previous tours, we got a new perspective from a younger actor on the moving part of the tour. Definitely a good time.

We dropped the kids off at the Science Works hands-on museum, which they enjoyed, while the adults saw "Troilus and Cressida" in the small indoor theater. Terrific performances, though I have to say the material is far from Shakespeare's best. The play is ultimately pretty unsatisfying. Not a criticism of the performance or the staging, which was all very good. But the text pretty much leaves one hanging. One big plus was the part of Thersites, a tiny character in the Illiad, blown up here and performed in a kind of Dennis Hopper-ish, over the top performance by Michael Elich.

Then the Preface for the evening's performance of "Henry V," followed by a second dinner at Smithfield's.

Henry V completes the three-year, three-play sequence following the growth and maturation of Prince Hal and his pals in the two parts of Henry IV. John Tufts continues to amaze me in the role. He has obviously worked very hard at it, and gives a wonderful, nuanced performance. The preface was really good and helpful, too, helping to tease out the issues of lineage and claims to the throne of both England and France, among other things. So far, I'd say this is the highlight of the trip for me, being both an excellent standalone performance and the culmination of the three-year odyssey.

Now then, off to brunch! And more theater!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Independence Day and Theater!

We decided to squeeze our annual trip to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival into the Independence Day holiday season, so we'll get four days of theater with only two days off work. We drove up last night after work, and had a quick, easy drive.

This morning we learned that the house where we're staying is practically at the starting spot for the Ashland Independence Day parade, so we headed out to watch that. It was great fun, in a small town celebration sort of way. Pretty much the whole town seemed to be out. By the end, since we were about halfway to the Shakespeare Festival, we just walked the rest of the way into town, grabbed a quick lunch at one of the booths serving food (tasty gyros), and then split up for the afternoon, with me going to watch "Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella" with my mother-in-law, and the rest of the family checking out the rest of the celebration in Lithia Park.

The play was about as strange as the title implies. They are literally performing (most of) three plays simultaneously on the same stage. The point is that they have some similarities of both structure and theme, but truly, I think it's a bit of a reach. There are some very clever moments and some good performances, so it was a worthwhile afternoon.

For dinner we had hoped to go to Caldera Tap House, but they had closed for the holiday. So we checked out the Standing Stone Brewing Company instead. We had tried it a few years ago and weren't that impressed with either the beer or the food, but this visit was better. The beer was still just OK, but the food was quite good. The key was letting the server list their extensive specials for the day, which included a fish burrito, a crab cake salad, a local bison burger, and a filet mignon. We had the burrito and the burger, and were quite pleased.

Evening we again split up. I went with my daughter to see "Animal Crackers," which she found quite delightful (and which I enjoyed a lot, too). My wife and her mother went to see "The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa," which I will see later this trip (Saturday, I think) while they see Animal Crackers.

It was a fun first day, and we managed to get more exercise than we usually get here. Never even took the car out at all. Good stuff.

Tomorrow we get breakfast instead of a parade, and some friends will be flying up to join us for the remainder of the trip. Somewhere along the way we checked and found there were a few tickets available for one of the shows that had been sold out when we ordered, so we added another play. I think somehow I will end up seeing eight plays in four days. Yow!