Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Unfortunates—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

Life is a Cabaret

This World Premiere of the Fantasy Musical, The Unfortunates, is written by Jon Beavers, Casey Hurt, Ian Merrigan and Kristoffer Diaz.  It is directed by Shana Cooper, musical direction by Casey Hurt and choreography by Tiffany Rachelle Stewart.  It plays at OSF through November 2nd at the Thomas Theatre.  For further information, go to their site at or call 541-482-4331.

“Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.”  After all, this takes place in a prisoner-of-war camp.  But these Unfortunates are not ready to roll over and die yet.  They have a story to tell…of lives and loves lived and lost.  But this is Joe’s story and he has a lot to say and only a little time left to say it.  In his way of looking at things now, he might say, “Life is something that happens while you’re waiting to die.”

The production is presented in a cabaret style, something reminiscent of Marat/Sade, Cirque du Sol, and the Rocky Horror Show put together.  Big Joe (Ian Merrigan) and his Band of Brothers are in a war camp, just waiting their turn at the executioner’s table.  But while he’s waiting, he’s also musing of a land where his leader, King Jesse (Jon Beavers) has a cabaret bar filled with all sorts of oddities and end-games.

In this unusual mix are an armless girl, Rae (Kjerstine Rose Anderson), who Joe has a thing for, and a Preacher (Ken Robinson), spreading his own brand of salvation and the Madame (Chavez Ravine) of the establishment, making sure it flows with hot and cold running girls.  Then, there’s the entertaining Rooks (Rodney Gardiner and Barret O’Brien), waiting for any morsel, living or dead, to wet their appetites.  And, in such a setting, you also need a clown, a torch singer, Roxy (Christina Acosta Robinson) and a villain, a mad doctor (Ramiz Monsef), to add to the merriment.

But, like Poe’s, The Masque of Red Death, their fun ‘n games are threatened by the outside world and The Plague.  And Joe, a born fighter (his fists are, at least, three times one’s normal size) are no competition for this unseen adversary.  But if you’re going to die anyway, why not sing and dance along the way.  The tunes range from Rock, “I Want You…I Need You,” to C&W “If These Arms Could Hold You,” to Spiritual, “Old Time Glory.”  And they are all well performed by a very talented cast.

This is not really a coherent story but a man’s personal odyssey, his journey, in the final moments of his life.  A nightmare of bizarre proportions to encapsulate a mind going mad.  A return to Ithaka, as his demons are finally exposed and he accepts the inevitable.  A final attempt to quell the beast inside…loosen the angry fists…and allow yourself to hold and be held…to sleep...and to dream, again….  These are the thoughts I considered after experiencing this production.  Yours may be different and that’s okay, too.  Art speaks with many varied voices.  Interpretation is up to the beholder.

The whole cast is amazing.  The Rooks (Obrien, Gardiner & Beavers) are both fun and scary.  Anderson has a lovely voice and certainly sells her songs.  And Beavers as the Rook and King Jesse is terrific to watch.  Merrigan as the lead, Joe, has the right look and sound but his constant expression of befuddlement was somewhat tiring to watch.  I would have expected more variety of reactions to his plight.  And the whole production team and writers should be complemented in bringing a difficult and complex story to the stage is such an entertaining manner.

The show might be summed up simply by an audience member I overheard after the presentation.  “I don’t think I understood it, but I enjoyed it anyway.”  I do recommend this show but it does deal with nightmarish, adult situations.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.  For another perspective, check out Greg’s review at: 
A side note to compliment a couple of establishments that stick to the Shakespearean tradition.  The Black Sheep (upstairs) on the Plaza serves traditional English food and ales and is open late  And a new tavern, just a couple doors down, Oberon’s Three-Penny Tavern, serves libations straight from the “fairy forest.”  There is Mead, Cider, an IPA with a hint of Jasmine and a Stout that has no bitter aftertaste.  And the bar itself and surroundings are all in wood, the staff is dressed in medieval costumes and they promise to have traditional music from that period, too.  If you see Ivy, tell her Dennis sent you.  Enjoy! 

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