Friday, May 23, 2014

The Tempest—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

“…substantial vision…”

This classic Shakespearean fantasy is playing at the Bowmer Theatre at OSF in repertory through November 2nd.  It is directed by Tony Taccone.  For more information, contact their site at www.osfashland.org or call 541-482-4331.

This play of the Bard’s is one of my favorite.  It was a later work of his and, some thought, it may have been his way of saying good-bye to the magic words he created for the stage.  Most of the great Shakespearean actors have played Prospero at one time or the other.  The latest film version is with Christopher Plummer.

Cassavettes directed a modern version some years ago called, Tempest.  Possibly the strangest one was when Walter Pidgeon played this type of character in the Sci-Fi film from the 60’s, Forbidden Planet.  Over the years I have seen a fair number of versions of this play.  And, truthfully, overall, this is the best interpretation of this play I’ve seen!  Later, in this review, I’ll get to the specifics of why.

But first, the story.  Prospero (Dennis Arndt) has had his own kingdom in Milan usurped by his brother.  So, he has escaped with his daughter, Miranda (Alejandra Escalante), to a remote island to contemplate his fate.  With him, he has brought a great number of his books on magic and his enchanted robe, supplied to him by his one true friend in his home country, Gonzalo (Bruce A. Young).

Also on the island is a sprite, named Ariel (Kate Hurster), who is rescued by him to do his bidding.  And there is Caliban (Wayne T. Carr), a man-beast who becomes his slave.  And, it just so happens, that his evil brother, Antonio (Jeffery King), and the King, Alonso (Al Espinosa) and some of their men are aboard a boat near his island.  And so he instructs Ariel to create a tempest (storm) at sea and all the men are washed ashore.

On board, too, are the King’s son, Ferdinand (Daniel Jose’ Molina) and a couple of rummy sailors, Stephano (Richard Elmore) and his buddy, Trinculo (Barzin Akhavan), the comic interludes for this story.  I really can’t say much more about this play without giving away some key plot devices.  But, needless to say, the accumulation of all these opposing forces will create a tempest of their own on this tight, little piece of terra firma.

So why is this production superior in many ways to others I’ve seen?  Arndt, for one, as Prospero.  His interpretation and, I’m sure, the Director’s, Taccone, are in sync, to create a more human-like character.  This role is often played in a very flamboyant manner with loads of bluster and pomposity.  But Prospero’s purpose is simple.  He is a very, wronged man and he wants his status back and vengeance on those who did this to him.  He is a man, not a god, nor does he particularly enjoy playing one.  He simply wants what was his in the first place and will get it by any means necessary.

Arndt’s manner of approaching the role is similar to the “Conversational Shakespeare” style of acting (which I learned).  In brief, this means an actor uses the Bard’s words, but not from a highly stylized stand-point but more in a simple, conversational manner.  This allows larger audience identification with such classical characters from a more modern approach.  This works in the show and, thus, makes Shakespeare more accessible to us, so that we can connect with the humanness of the characters and their plights.  Arndt’s quiet, simple rendition of the famous speech, “…We are such stuff…” is priceless.

Other pluses, the use of the Japanese-style dancers, as sprites, fleshing out elements to move the story forward, a welcome addition.  The simplicity of the set (Daniel Ostling) is a marvel.  The play then is forced to rely on the storytelling aspects of it then have us get so caught up in the special effects.  But, I have to admit, the shipwreck/storm scene at the beginning is amazing.  And the costumes (Anita Yavich) ranged from opulent to simple to eccentric, as did the make-up.  The lighting (Alexander V. Nichols) and sound (Andre J. Pluess) created the moods for the show, replacing any need for grandiose sets.

Elmore was brilliant, a veteran of many years at OSF.  His comic timing can’t be beat.  And Molina, as the young suitor, is surprisingly good.  Surprisingly, because this is often just a throw-away role.  But he plays it as a semi-comic character and it works wonderfully.  Hurster has a lovely singing voice; Escalante is appropriately naïve and yet naturally savvy; Carr is quite good, letting his acting (and make-up) create the character, instead of an outlandish costume.  And the rest of the supporting cast are very capable, too.  At the end I felt tears welling up in my eyes when they said their goodbyes, a tribute to the director and cast.  Bravo, Taccone!

I would highly recommend this show.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.


Comedy of Errors was not reviewed by me but here is Greg’s perspective - http://swwastar.blogspot.com/2014/05/osf-review-comedy-of-errors-3-cats-meow.html



The Ashland Experience (Part II)

The Black Sheep

My favorite place to eat is this English-style restaurant and pub.  They have a full bar and dinner menu, reasonable prices, Wi-Fi, a happy hour, occasional live entertainment and they stay open till 1 am, just the place for a little libation or snack after an OSF play (1 block away).  They are located on the Plaza downtown, 51 N. Main St. (upstairs).  They have the whole array of traditional Brit food and drink, and Irish, Welsh and Scot’s noshes, too.

A special site you might want to take is the Doctor Who telephone booth.  My friend, Ryan, didn’t know who Who was and went in to make a call.  I haven’t seen him since, so hope the Doctor is taking good care of him.  Another special attraction is their lovely, welcoming, Prairie Skye.  (If you can’t solve the riddle for that, talk to their bartender.)  As they say, the place “Where You Belong!”

For more information, go to their site at www.theblacksheep.com or call 541-482-6414.  I, for one, will be back again.  I highly recommend this place.  If you do stop in, give a salute to their Prairie for me.