Friday, May 8, 2015

Much Ado About Nothing—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

“The Food of Love”

This popular comedy by the Bard is playing at the Bowmer theatre through November 1st.  It is directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz.  For more information, go to their site at or call 541-482-4331.

The Bard’s comedies all have the same recipe:  Strong female characters, usually masked or mistaken identities at some point, farcical character(s) to broaden the wit, striving to find a husband/wife, and complications with the parents.  And, of course, the marriageable ladies must be maidens (virgins) but not necessarily the fellows.  Going to war or having been a soldier is a plus for the men.  And having wealth and a spotless family heritage is also desirable.

There are also one or more comedic clowns, usually servants or civil service individuals, that seem to have all the answers via observations of the upper crust.  And there always has to be an opposing force or villainous sort of person who, for often flimsy or unknown reasons (as in this case) simply wants to do harm to love’s machinations.
So we find the Prince, Don Pedro (Cristofer Jean), coming back from the wars with two of his most eligible bachelors, Benedick (Danforth Comins) and Claudio (Carlo Albán), looking for mates.  They find them in Beatrice (Christiana Clark), and the Governor’s, Leonato (Jack Willis), daughter, Hero (Leah Anderson).  Hero is easily won over by Claudio, but Beatrice is a kissing cousin to Kate, the shrew, from another of the Bards’ works.  And he, Benedick, is equally stubborn and pig-headed.

So family and friends, as well as Ursula (Robin Waisanen) and Margaret (Allison Buck), servants to the ladies, conspire to get these two lovers together.  Meanwhile, back at the manor, we have a disgruntled war vet in a wheel-chair, Don John (Regan Linton), sister to Don Pedro, conspiring with her henchmen, Borachio (Barret O’Brien) and Conrade (Armando McClain), to devise a method of smearing Hero’s reputation, giving the inference that she is not a maiden.

But all does not go quite as planned, as a vigilant police force under the ever-mobile, Dogberry (Rex Young), the constable, and his underlings, Verges (Eileen DeSandre), his mother, and George (Lucas Lee Caldwell) and Hugh (Cesar Perez Rosas) have overheard the details of the plot and strive in their own inept way, to bring justice to all.  To tell more would be spoiling the plot but, after all, this is a comedy, folks and, as the Bard has cited before, “all’s well that ends well.”

Most of the fun in Shakespearean comedies is not so much in the wit and dialogue but in the execution of the show, the staging.  This one has just a series of chairs onstage for any kind of furniture but the flowering pink tree (cherry blossoms?) and the huge chandeliers (scenic design, Scott Bradley) light up the stage with magic.  And the staging by the director (Blain-Cruz) of Benedict and subsequently, Beatrice, overhearing the conspirers planting verbal love tokens from one to the other, is brilliant.  Physical comedy is rampant in this production and these scenes are wonderful examples of it.  She definitely has a knack for comedy and even manages to touch you during the more dramatic moments.

The performances are all good, even unique in some instances, such as Don John being played by a woman and in a wheel-chair and the contraption that Dogberry rides around in, all very clever.  Comins and Clark play the proud lovers to a tee and are good in their verbal sparring.  Willis (a terrific LBJ from past seasons) is equally powerful here.  And Linton, as the dark, brooding war vet is quietly disturbing, giving an added depth to this character.

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

The Ashland Experience (Part I)

As always, I recommend my favorite restaurant and pub in town for authentic British cuisine, The Black Sheep.  After all, Shakespeare was a Brit, folks, so here’s a chance to sample dishes from his own country.  And Greg is a wonderful host for this establishment, making you feel right at home and part of the family.  My friend had the Norfolk Fish Pie and enjoyed it.  I had something Greg recommended, the Conundrum Sandwich, which can be made with chicken, fish or Tofu (for the vegetarian-minded) and is very good.  The selections are amazing, covering not only London-fare but Welsh, Irish and Scottish as well.  And the libations are quite extensive, too, as well as they stay open late for when shows at OSF let out.  I highly recommend this place, on the Plaza, 51 N. Main St. (look for the red door and go upstairs) 541-482-6414.

Amy Richard, OSF, Dave Paull, and Dennis Sparks

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