Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Happiest Song Plays Last—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR


The Happiest Song Plays Last—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

A Journey of the Soul

This topical drama is written by Quiara Alegría Hudes and directed by Shishir Kurup.  It is playing at the Thomas Theatre at OSF in downtown Ashland through November 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org or call 800-219-8161.

Many cultures.  One world.  How to survive?  Does the conquering of one nation need to be the death knell for those people’s culture?  If history is any teacher, it looks like the answer is, Yes.  But does it need to be that way?  Can we not co-exist?  When all is said and done, are we not essentially made of the same Clay?  And, if so, shouldn’t we be taking care of each other, instead of destroying one another?  “Are we not (as the author suggests) our brothers’ keepers?”

This is, on the surface, two stories with multiple layers.  On one hand we have Yaz (Nancy Rodriguez), a “Mother Earth” figure who, from her home in North Philly, is trying to save the world one neighborhood at a time.  In her melting pot of cultures we see a microcosm of society.  She befriends a local Puerto Rican musician/revolutionary, Agustin (Armando Durán), who she feels is a tortured soul.  She also is “mother” to an Afro-American street person, Lefty (Bruce A. Young), who may not be “right in the head” but does have the sense to feel he needs to “re-direct” traffic at the site where a child had been hit by an auto.

This is countered by her cousin, Elliot (Daniel Duque–Estrada), who is a film actor in the Middle East, learning, under that false image of film, what he thinks those people are going through.  But, as his association with this country grows stronger, he befriends one of the crew people, Ali (Barzin Akhavan), who actually lives in that environment, and an actress, Shar (Tala Ashe), who he becomes close with.  It is a painful learning and growing experience that fact and fiction have little in common in this case, both for Elliot, in a world not imagined, and for Yaz, in a world too familiar.  It will be a journey in which both of their perceptions will collide with reality which, although the past may not be able to be changed, a future with a new understanding may be possible.  In short, it just may be a new beginning…

Especially impressive is the set by scenic designer, Sibyl Wickerscheimer.  In a small space she has managed to fashion two completely different worlds and made them both believable with only a few essentials.  It is really a creative and remarkable job.  Kurup has also managed to carve out an existence in both these environments, with his actors, that is both convincing visually and internally.

The cast are also totally immersed in this setting.  It is punctuated by some fine singing of Puerto Rican songs by Durán and musician, Joe Cruz.  It should be noted, too, that this is a repertory company and all these actors play a variety of roles in different plays over a few months and are totally unrecognizable from one role to another as the same actor.  This is the ultimate challenge for an actor and a real treat for an audience to see this versatility.  I applaud OSF for allowing such worthy artists to grace their stages and to the artists themselves for their creative work.

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Ashland Experience (part II)
As you may by now know, my favorite eating and imbibing establishment in Ashland is The Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant.  It has authentic food from the British Isles and, since OSF was named for an English Bard, this is (as far as I know) the only pub in town that honors the food & drink of his homeland.  It also stays open after the plays are over, for a nightcap and a quick snack or dessert, which many like-places do not.  I had their special, which was a chicken breast with berry sauce and rice pilaf and veggies—very good.  Another added attraction, which I was not aware of, is that they have a young lady that makes home-made desserts.  This time is was a Strawberry-Rhubarb pie and it was amazing.  I also learned from Greg, the always accommodating and friendly bartender, that she is leaving this place.  I, for one, hope that she will, at least, continue her fine culinary magic with desserts here.  For more information, go to their site at www.theblacksheep.com or call 541-482-6414.  The address is 51 N. Main St. on the Plaza, upstairs.  Look for the red door.  As always, both here and any place I recommend, if you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.