Monday, September 24, 2012

Animal Crackers - Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, Oregon

"Makers of Madness"

ANIMAL CRACKERS
is on its final weeks (through November 4) at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and has been selling out, so best get your tickets soon, if you’re planning on making the trip.  It’s based on an early play/movie of The Marx Brothers and the actors impersonate the Marx Brothers, doing the parts in the play.


As a friend of mine said, you either love the Marx Brothers style of humor or you hate it.  There is no middle ground.  As it happens, I’m in the former group, so we’re off to a good start.

There is a plot, as such, but it is so inconsequential to the antics, it is barely worth mentioning.  It takes place at a cocktail party of a rich lady, Mrs. Rittenhouse (the Margret Dumont character, as played by K. T. Vogt).  Part of the purpose of the party is to reveal a painting by a famous artist.  But it so happens there is also a fake copy, which replaces it but…don’t worry about the rest.

There are also songs and young lovers but the production belongs to the merry mischief of the Marx’s.  Of course, it is crucial, that the actors portraying, in particular, Groucho (Capt. Spaulding, as played by Mark Bedard), Harpo (the Professor, as played by Brent Hinkley) and Chico (Ravelli, as played by John Tufts) are exceptional in their performances of theses famous comic actors.  They are.

The play takes place in the late twenties/early thirties period of time.  And the set by Richard L. Hay is perfectly in line with this, as might be seen on an Agatha Christie film.  The costumes by Shigeru Yaji are equally as good.  And the musicians, onstage throughout, lend a believable presence to the proceedings.

The Marx Brothers were known for their ad-libbing and improvisational techniques onstage and with the audience.  This production is no exception.  If an actor flubbed a line or missed an entrance, Groucho would make a comic bit out of it, taking the audience into his confidence.  And viewers are not immune to their antics, either.

When a cell phone went off in the audience, Groucho immediately came off the stage, grabbed her phone and began talking the person on the other end.  If bedlam, humor and a dose of music excites your pallette, this will be a feast for you.  And I haven’t even told you about the dancing, mechanical Grouches that invade the stage.  It’s that kind of show, folks.

Mark Bedard as “Groucho” is extraordinary!  He has the comic timing down to a tee.  He rips, roars and rears around the stage as if he were gliding on skates.  His looks and gestures are pure “Groucho.”  This is a show I could see more than once, as long as Mr. Bedard were the Captain of the helm.

Mr. Tufts and Mr. Hinkley, as well as Ms. Vogt, do well in their impersonations, too.  The looks, the timing and the madcap frivolities onstage will take you back to the, perhaps, simpler, more innocent days.  Those “hazy, lazy, crazy days,” gone forever, except these wonderful footnotes of it onstage.

With all the attention to the Marx’s, you’d think that nobody else would get noticed.  Not true.  Jonathan Haugen, playing duel roles, is excellent in both of them.  He is so good in these contrasting characters that you’d think he were two different actors.  And Mandie Jensen, as Mrs. R.’s daughter, sings and dances her way into your hearts.

The director, Allison Narver, has her work cut out for her.  Not only did she have to immerse herself into Marx and Vaudeville lore, but she had to convincingly recreate a bygone era for an audience, in which, some of them, might detect a false note, having lived through it.  But she has worn all these hats very well.
At times, some of the skits went on a tad too long, but with a full house and a rousing standing ovation for the show, who’s going to argue with that.  For young hearts, this is an entertaining history lesson.  For the oldsters, a time to travel to the good ole days.

For tickets and membership information call 1-800-219-8161 and for more information on their shows contact their website at www.osfashland.org  Tell them Dennis sent you.