Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Henry IV, Part One—Ashland Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

“A House Divided…”

This is part of the history canon of the Bard’s plays, directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz.  It is playing at the Thomas Theatre in repertory through October 28th.  For more information, go their site at www.osfashland.org or call 1-800-219-8161.

War is a tricky business.  Just when you thought you had mastered the task, some damn fool comes along and changes the rules.  Preserving what you have is important, of course.  And having superior weapons and shaking your fist at your opponent also helps your cause.  Drawing lines in the sand and making complicated and usually insufficient treaties is another rule of warfare, too.  Or, you could simply build a wall and keep the riff-raff out (of course that doesn’t address the problem of the riff-raff within your own peoples).

A great measuring device of who is acceptable and who isn’t, can be reasonably easy to discern…those not believing as you do, or looking like you, are obviously undesirable.  Of course there is the question of what is moral or ethical but…you see how it can get pretty complicated, don’t you.  Simply said, the majority or victors make the rules.

How this all applies to this play is that, in order to be the Big Cheese, you just may have to get tough and have your clan put their foot down and make the decisions for everyone, even the “unwashed masses” that disagree with you, for their own good.

The Romans, when in Northern England, many years before King Henry, built Hadrian’s Wall, to keep out undesirables.  China also had their Great Wall for the same purpose.  And now, it seems, that America is following suit, doing the same with Mexico, even claiming they will be paying for it.  Perhaps Canada will follow suit someday, too, and build one, trying to keep up with their neighbors.  Wow, do we learn fast.  Look how far we have advanced since those ancient times.  Or not?!

As to Henry’s dilemma, “what we have here is a failure to communicate.” It seems that King Henry (Jeffery King) may be in charge of his own clan, the English (Tyrone Wilson, Jeremy Gallardo, and Moses Villarama), but the Scot’s and Welsh clans have their own ideas of who should be in charge.  Even Henry’s son, Hal (Daniel José Molina) is, in actuality, the Prince of Wales. But since all those clans are inter-related by marriage and birth, in some way, it makes for some sticky situations…like I said, War is a tricky business.

Besides, Hal seems to have no particular interest in politics or soldiering, as he’s more interested in hanging out with pals and carousing in taverns.  His favorite haunt is the bars in the slums of Eastcheap, one especially, run by Mistress Quickly (Michele Mais), where their favorite citizen Sir John Falstaff (G. Valmont Thomas) holds his own court, with the likes of Poins (Michael Gabriel Goodfriend), Bardolph (Robert Vincent Frank), Peto (Lauren Modica) and, of course, the financer of the debaucheries, his influential buddy, Hal.  The scenes with these mischievous merrymakers comprise a great bulk of the show and are hilarious.  An especially funny bit is what happens when Falstaff mishandles a taser.

When attempting to describe the opposing foes, it gets really muddy.  Suffice to say that the most active personage is Henry “Hotspur” Percy (Alejandra Escalante) and his equally, mean-spirited wife (Nemuna Ceesay).  There are other factions of this clan include Glendower (Modica, again), Worcester (Kimberly Scott), Mortimer (Goodfriend, again) and Lady Moritmer (Rachel Kostrna), among others.  All these varying elements will eventually clash, some will die or be captured, and some to survive for the next installment in Henry IV, Part II.

This is all done on a very small, mostly bare stage, sans the bar scenes, and is remarkable that it stays, for the most part, so clear as to where they are and who’s who.  Really can’t tell you more as it would be giving away plot devices and I wouldn’t do that.  But I’m impressed with Blain-Cruz who had a monumental job on her hands of keeping everything straight.  Also, her cast is first-rate, Molina having the unenviable task of riding the thin line of playing a debaucher on one hand, then a savior.  Escalante is equally good enacting his hot-headed foe.  And Thomas is exceptional, as the scene-stealing clown, Falstaff, a rogue “by any other name” would be as funny.

I’d also like to give a shout-out to Modica, a Portland actor I have reviewed a few times and she is always an asset to the shows she’s done there.  It good to see her expanding her wings, as she is equally effective in the roles she performs here, too.  Good at ya, lady!

I recommend this play and am anxious to see the conclusion this summer.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Black Sheep

This is my favorite watering hole and place for meals when I’m in town.  Usually stop in three or four times for food, or imbibing after the show, as it’s one of the few places open that late.  It features food and beers from the British Isles and all are excellent.  It also has all manner of paraphernalia on the walls and throughout the bar (and even an authentic phone booth) from the same region.  Also their lighting fixture above the bar is, quite literally, a work of art.  One of my friends that comes with me usually, Christine, is a native Brit and vouches for the authenticity and loves the food.

Also, important to note, all their concoctions are made “in-house,” meaning they make them themselves, like the desserts, sauces and all manner of inventive dishes at reasonable prices.  Their tartar sauce is the best I’ve ever had.  I promise myself to try different dishes each time but always go back to my favorites, the traditional fish & chips or Shepherd’s Pie.  And they usually have an original dessert each time.  This outing, it was a generous helping of chocolate bread pudding—“to die for.”

Also, Greg is back as bartender and he’s the best.  He had been away for awhile and the place lacked his winning personality but now, according to him, he and his girlfriend are back for good.  When he has time, he loves to chat with people and find out their stories.  If you do pop in there, tell him, as always, Dennis sent you.  Highly recommend this place.  Look for the red door on the Plaza, just below OSF.