Monday, May 11, 2015

Fingersmith—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

Weaver of Webs

This thriller will be playing at the Bowmer Theatre through July 9th.  It was written by Sarah Walters and adapted for the stage by Alexa Junge and directed by Bill Rauch (OSF’s Artistic Director).  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org or call 541-482-4331.

Conception, deception, perception…just everyday occurrences in the life of a Fingersmith.  A touch of Dickens (Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities), a dose of The Bad Seed, a pinch of The Collector and a plot that would make Christie proud.  These are the ingredients of a gothic-thriller stew of about 150 years ago.  “Oh, what a web we weave.”

Being that there are so many twists and turns to this story, it begs one to pay very close attention or you may lose track of the plot.  It is also told in a story-telling theatre style, meaning that the characters also narrate the story as it proceeds, which is a device I like.  But, that being said, since the element of surprise is crucial by the end of the first act, there is very little of the story I can tell you without being a “spoiler.”

It starts in a type of orphanage for unwanted babies run by Mrs. Sucksby (Kate Mulligan).  The babies are either sold off or raised to be petty thieves and pickpockets.  Sue (Sara Bruner) is one of those children and becomes a fingersmith (or, expert pickpocket).  But Richard, a senior member of this den of thieves (Elijah Alexander), has other ideas for Sue, as she is almost a double for a rich, reclusive young lady, Maud (Erica Sullivan), who lives in a house with her uncle (Peter Frechette), a writer and bookseller.

And since he is in employment with this uncle, it would be no trouble for him to have Sue hired on as Maud’s maid, then Richard would marry Maud, so he would be heir to her fortune, and then they would dispose of her in some way and Sue, as the fake Maud, would inherit all (sound complicated to this point…oh, you have no idea…).  Anyway, that is the initial plan on the surface.  But like all good mysteries, people may not be as they seem and things have a way of going awry.  At this point, I will have to beg off the rest of the story and say…you’ll just have to see it for the even more complex conclusion.

The set (designer, Christopher Acebo) is magical.  OSF always has such a marvelous way of presenting staging for their shows.  This one is basically one giant set that becomes many places by just quickly changing pieces of furniture and lighting (designer, Alan C. Edwards).  And Rauch has an equally magical touch in fitting pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together.  He has chosen his small cast well, assuming many different characters throughout, and still has managed to keep the story coherent.

The cast is uniformly excellent, as in all of OSF’s shows.  Bruner and Sullivan stand out as the two leads, giving us some very complex characters and their execution of these portrayals is spot on.  The rest of the cast is also exceptional, playing as many as four roles, each of them a distinctive character.  OSF is known for its professionalism and this is a good example of getting the very best people, both onstage and behind the scenes.

The only exception I would take is not with the production itself, but with the script.  The writer becomes somewhat self-indulgent in the latter part of the story, showing us how clever she is in fooling the viewer.  Although the twists may flesh out the story and characters a bit more, it becomes somewhat repetitious for an audience.  As a young astute friend of mine pointed out, “we get it, already, you don’t have to hammer us over the head with it.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself.  But, even with that being said, the production itself is first class!

I recommend this show.  If you do see if, please tell them Dennis sent you.



The Ashland Experience (Part III)

No trip to Ashland should be complete until you have taking a stroll (or run) through Lithia Park.  There is a duck pond to muse by, picnic tables for lunches, a playground for the young ones and the Beauty of Nature surrounding you.  It doesn’t get any better than that, folks.  You also might partake of the Greenleaf Restaurant (on the Plaza), for the healthy-food minded, or one of the pubs near the creek with outdoor seating.  The Varsity movie theatre has not only first run films but Indie and foreign films as well.  And the Cabaret Theatre has musical revues for your enjoyment.  Enjoy!

 Photo by Dave Paull