Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Twelfth Night—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

Love’s Foolish Minions

This classic comedy by the immortal Shakespeare is directed by Christopher Liam Moore.  It is playing in the Angus Bowmer Theatre, downtown Ashland, in repertory, through October 30th.  For more information, go to their site at  or call 800-219-8161.

The Bard’s musings have taken on many locales and time periods over the years since he conceived his plays.  Of course, he essentially lifted his stories from other sources, so I guess it’s only fair we transpose them as well.  His characters have been incarnated into New Orleans, Haiti, the hippie era of the 60’s, post-desert storm, Alaska, Texas, et. al. and now, Hollywood of the 1930’s.  The setting that is rarely done is to place it in his time and space, with audiences sitting on the edges of the stages, laughing and asking questions of the actors, drinking their brews and tossing chicken bones around, females onstage being played by boys, and vendors hawking their wares during the performance.  But that was then…this is now.

It was the time (1930’s) and place (Hollywood) for silly musicals, pipe dreams and a head full of “stuff and nonsense.”  It was also the advent of what would become WWII in Europe, and the Depression here.  But, despite it all, Hollywood was still considered the “stuff which dreams are made on,” and the movies seemed to be the very key to those musings.

In this incarnation of Cupid’s swift arrows, a shipwreck has occurred and Viola (Sara Bruner), fears that her twin brother, Sebastian (again, Bruner), to have been lost at sea.  To discover the truth in this alien atmosphere, she disguises herself as a boy, Ceasario, and eventually allies herself with Orsino (Elijah Alexander), the head of Illyria Studios, who she is immediately smitten with.

But the Duke only has eyes for the mega-star, Olivia (Gina Daniels), who has no interest in him but does seem to favor Ceasario, who has been sent by Orsino to her to plead his case for love.  Meanwhile Olivia has some very odd but witty servants, among them, the droll Malvolio (Ted Deasy), a petulant steward (who has a bit of a crush on his mistress) and Maria (Kate Mulligan), her assistant, a mischievous merrymaker, both of whom only add more heat to an already spicy stew.

And, if that wasn’t enough, Olivia has an uncle, Toby Belch (Daniel T. Parker), a drunk and failed silent film star, and his rich, fey friend, Andrew Aguecheek (Danforth Comins), a rich buffoon.   A rather independent and persuasive musical actor, Feste (Rodney Gardiner), a witty troubadour, seems to be our outside eyes, looking at the proceedings with cloaked optimism, and commenting on them, or partaking in them, when necessary, to route the story forward.  To say that things may end up in a muddle is an understatement.  And to relate too much more of the story would spoil the fun, but know that the slippery slope they tumble down will have a softer landing, being that they may end up together.

This interpretation begs the question as to who, if any, these characters might represent in that “reel” world.  Does Orsino represent Lang or Curtiz, who fled Germany to become a success in the States as a Director; is Belch a thin disguise for Fatty Arbuckle or W. C. Fields; does Feste resemble one of the dancing Nichols Brothers or Bill Robinson; does Olivia represent the exotic Hedy Lamarr or Dorothy Lamour; and is Viola the versatile Chaplin, or Aguecheek a foppish, Errol Flynn or Douglas Fairbanks?  Who’s to know, but it is fun to speculate.

This is the singing/dancing, funny/romancing, flight back in time to a less complicated world.  Moore has created a fitting escapist fare for those times and possibly ours.  His cast fairly twinkles with enthusiasm and it is contagious.  Daniels is a very alluring femme fatale; Gardiner, a terrifically talented wise fool; Deasy, a complicated clown; Parker, a sad clown; and Comins, full of flash and hot air.

But Bruner stands out, as a character that seems just a bit out of step with her times, possibly the most original interpretation of this role that I’ve seen.  Her character is a leader but with no followers.  She stands alone, slightly out of focus with her peers, as if waiting for history to catch up with her.  She has the right look, underplaying beautifully, a person one beat behind (or ahead) of everybody else.  It will be interesting to see what she does with other roles this season, as she is pretty impressive here.

I highly recommend this production.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Ashland Experience (part II)

CALDERA TAP HOUSE:  This is another tavern I frequent during my stay in Ashland.  The lure of this place, especially during the sunnier months, is the fact that it has a patio on the creek with a great, giant tree growing through the center of it.  The food is reasonable and does offer a few more choices than “typical” bar food.  It is also allied with a brewing company of the same name and has some very good microbrews.  Worth checking out, as it’s only a couple blocks from OSF along the creek, 31 Water St. (#2).  Check their site at or call 541-482-7468.  I recommend this place.  If you do choose to visit them, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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