Monday, May 26, 2014

The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

“…times, they are a changin’”

This very heavy drama is by Lorraine Hansberry and directed by Juliette Carrillo.  It plays at OSF’s Bowmer Theatre, in repertory, through July 6th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 541-482-4331.

Hansberry is the author of the award-winning, The Raison in the Sun.  The time period for this story is the mid-1960’s in New York’s, Greenwich Village.  It is the era of folk-music, hippies, Viet-Nam, black rights, free love, protests, and drugs.  The sterile 50’s were gone.  Now is the time of the revolution in social mores and politics.  It is said, if you remember the 60’s, you weren’t there.

But, Sidney (Ron Menzel), a newspaper editor/owner, is there with his wife, Iris (Sofia Jean Gomez), a hash slinger in a diner, and their gaggle of friends.  In fact, most of them have been friends since childhood.  There is Alton (Armando McClain), a writer on his paper; Max (Jack Willis), a pop artist/hippie; Wally (Danforth Comins), a rising, local politician; and David (Benjamin Pelteson), a gay playwright and upstairs neighbor.

There are also Iris’ two sisters.  Her older one, Mavis (Erica Sullivan), the conforming one, who has a steady marriage.  And, then, there’s Gloria (Vivia Font), the younger one, who’s a high-priced call girl.  At the outset, there is humor, love and friendship just oozing from the pores of these with-it people.  But underneath all that pleasant surface is a volcano waiting to explode, like the 60’s era, itself.

Can’t really tell you too much about the plot, as there are discoveries at every turn that the audience must ferret out.  But I can give you a bit of the flavor of the characters.  Sidney is looking for his place in the sun.  After a failed attempt at a folk-singing club, he buys a small newspaper, with money he hasn’t got.  He also has a very insulting manner at times and a sharp tongue.

Iris hates her job and also is looking for her purpose, too.  She finds it in acting but must start in degrading commercials first.  Her husband does not support this.  Alton is in love with Gloria but doesn’t realize she’s a hooker.  Mavis’ marriage is not what it seems and she objects to the liaison between her younger sister and Alton, simply because he’s black.

David, as mentioned, is gay and is trying to make his name in theatre as a writer.  Wally is a novice in the political field and wants to wipe out corruption and crime, but finds that to reside in this arena, the lamb must lie down with the lion.  And Max is a communist and an avant-garde artist, trying to make his name in his field.  They are all seekers and what they will find will turn their world and their relationships upside-down.

The play, I believe, not the production, has a couple of problems.  Hansberry is trying to tackle too many issues at once.  I think they need to be honed down somewhat and concentrate on juggling a lesser number of balls.  Also the character of Max only comes in once during an early part of the play and is never seen again.  He, too, could have been fleshed out more or just written out.  Although he represents a point of view, it is never fully explored.

The performances by the whole cast are exceptional, although they must be emotionally exhausted by the end of the story.  Menzel and Gomez are especially outstanding as the central characters.  They certainly explore every avenue of the peaks and depths of these people.  I especially liked the flashback scene between them, as it was very poignant.

Carrillo has put her actors through the paces and wrung every emotional moment from her cast.  And the set by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams was very well laid out, giving us the clutter of a cramped flat and yet allowing plenty of space for the actors to expound.  (By the way, the “Sign” of the title says “Fight Bossism.)

I would recommend this show but know that it is very intense and adult in nature.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

For another perspective, read Greg’s review:


The Ashland Experience (Part III)

Caldera Brewing Co. & Pub is located along the creek at 31 Water St. (across Main St. from the Plaza)  Just the place to stop in for a cool one on their patio during the hot stretches of weather.  They have traditional pub food, indoor seating, too, and a small stage for live entertainment.  They also have their own brand of micro-brews.  Alana was our very efficient server.  For more information, go to their site at or call 541-482-7468.  I recommend this place.  If you go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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