Monday, September 7, 2015

The Count of Monte Cristo—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

The Count of Monte Cristo (2015): Al Espinosa.
Mike Wimmer
An Age of Deception

The classic adventure story is by Alexandre Dumas and adapted for the stage by Charles Fechter and James O’Neill with restoration by William Davies King and Peter Sellars and directed by Marcela Lorca.  It is playing in the outdoor Elizabethan Theatre in downtown Ashland through October 11th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 800-219-8161.

Dumas also wrote the classic story of The Man in the Iron Mask and The Three Musketeers and, also with Count…, made into some rather good films.  One of the adaptors of the book was the father of famous playwright, Eugene O’Neill, and along with his father, are also two main characters in his play, Long Day’s Journey Into Night (playing here at OSF through October).  It is said that the elder O’Neill became so identified with the part of Dantés, having played it for years, that he was never able to get another decent role (perhaps, in some ways, not unlike Nimoy and his Spock character on Star Trek).

This is one of the ultimate tales of romance, betrayal and revenge.  It seems that Edmond Dantés (Al Espinosa), a seaman, has just been promoted and is set to be married to his true love, Mercédés (Vilma Silva), with the blessings of his aged father (Michael Winters).  But all is not as it seems, as the intended’s cousin, Fernand (Michael Sharon), also has designs on her.  So, when an opportunity arises, in a letter Edmond may have received from the deposed ruler in exile, Napoleon, he immediately enlists the Prosecutor for the government, Villefort (Peter Frechette), to have him thrown in prison for treason.

With his imprisonment for a number of years, there are dastardly deeds being accomplished without his knowledge.  There is a mysterious woman, Noirtier, (Robin Goodrin Nordli), who disguises herself as a man and seems to enjoy throwing things into chaos; an offspring, Albert (Dylan Paul), who’s parentage is in question; Edmond’s loyal friend, Caderousse (Richard Elmore) who, through thick and thin, believes his old friend is alive and innocent; and a strange cellmate of Edmund’s, Faria (Derrick Lee Weeden), who has a secret which will greatly aid Edmond in his search for the truth.

More I cannot tell you, as the plots are not only complicated but also revealing as to twists in the story.  This is another tale (as is Head Over Heels) that has at least three hands in the translation, the original author of the book, Dumas, the original adapters of the play in the late 1800’s, and some modern adapters.  There is an old saying that too many chefs spoil the broth.  Such is the case here.

The original book has many twists and turns regarding the story, as well as many sub-plots.  This makes for good reading but not necessarily for good visual storytelling.  The adapters try to include too much of the delectable novel onto the stage and thus only confuse rather than clarify the visceral feast.  Also the popular genre in which the play was performed at that time was melodrama.  But that was Then, this is Now.  The story is quite good just as it is--a rousing adventure.  It doesn’t need the added intrusion of wayward humor and sly asides, which are tiresome, to enhance the tale.

But, all that being said, the actors are just fine.  Especially notable are old pros like Richard Elmore as his true blue friend.  Elmore evokes both humor, as the drunken but wily Innkeeper, and pathos as he extols his friend’s virtues.  Well done.  And Nordli, as the complex and mysterious person of many guises, gives all these complexities a well-rounded performance.  Possibly the most difficult role in the show, she masters it with the ease of a professional.  Frechette and Weeden are also good in two notable roles.

I don’t envy the director, Lorca, wrestling with the text.  She has done a good job of staging the show and keeping things moving but the text got in the way some of the time, as mentioned.  I would recommend this show, as it’s still a grand story and the actors do justice to the characters.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Ashland Experience (part III)

There are some fine restaurants and pubs along the creek and, depending on the weather, sitting outside is a real pleasure.  Also, Lithia Park is a wonderful way to wile away some time, with a trail for jogging, a playground, picnic areas, a duck pond and is right in back of the OSF theatres.  There is also the Tutor Guild Gift Shop, across from the Bowmer theatre, which has a wealth of treasures of OSF.  Another stop on your tour of the Rogue River Valley might take you a few miles North to historic Jacksonville, home of the Britt Festival, a very old cemetery and some interesting shops and restaurants.  This time we stopped at The Cheesemonger’s Wife for lunch and it is a small deli with a limited but good menu of cheeses, sandwiches, ice cream and reasonable prices (150 S. Oregon St., 202-413-4167).  Well worth your time to stop in.

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