Monday, June 27, 2016

The Winter’s Tale—Allen Elizabethan (Outdoor) Theatre (OSF)—Ashland, OR

“A Tale of Two Cities”

This Oregon Shakespeare Festival production is by Mr. Shakespeare and directed for the stage by Desdemona  Chiang.  It plays at their outdoor theatre space, in rotation, through October 16th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 800-219-8161.

This is by no means the Bard’s best play, so is seldom done.  It is assumed that the title is because it is a depressing story.  But it could be a play on words, as it could be justifiably called “Tail,” assumedly because the first Act could take place at the “tail” of a devastating Winter, giving rise to a redeeming Spring in Act II.  And the residents of Sicilia are of the “old world,” being steeped in tradition.  The Bohemians are of the “new age,” evidenced by the 60’s.  Bohemians were also the title given to the pre-hippie era of the 30’s-50’s, of coffee houses, beatniks and folk music, probably of European/French origin, that led to cultural revolutions of the 60’s.

It does seem like two separate plays, as one takes place in Sicilia, ruled by tradition, and the other country, Bohemia, governed by a type of benign democracy.  And, like all of his comedies, there are clowns/servants (who are usually wiser than their masters) and disguises galore (which, in many cases, would probably fool no one). 

But my argument with the play (not the production, mind you) is that the King’s evil side manifests itself with little or no motive.  Yet these machinations form the whole reason for the plot to move forward.  The Bard seems to need a contrivance in some of his plays (as in this one) to get the ball rolling.  And many of these plays have an (unfounded or weak) jealousy and/or vanity, to spur them forward to some amazing adventures (see my follow up piece after the review, for further explanations).

But, that being said, the plot is (at least what I can tell you of it without being a spoiler) that that King of Sicilia (an Asian kingdom), Leontes (Eric Steinberg) suspects his wife, Hermione (Amy Kim Waschke) of having an affair with Polixenes (James Ryen), his childhood friend, the visiting King of Bohemia.  He relays his suspicions to his trusted adviser, Camillo (Cristofer Jean) and other close friends, Antigonus (Paul Juhn) and his wife, Paulina (Christiana Clark), but they will have none of it, and Camillo actually flees with Polixenes back to Bohemia.

Herminone, who is with child, is actually brought to trial for these supposed offenses and there are some tragic consequences to these actions.  Leontes banishes his condemned wife’s newborn to the netherlands, where she, too, ends up in Bohemia, under the care of a kind, old shepherd (Jonathan Haugen) and his not-too-bright son, (Paco Tolson).

By Act II, we are in Bohemia, where 16 years have passed.  Polixenes is concerned about his own son, Florizel (Moses Villarama), who seems to be disappearing for odd periods of time.  So he and Camillo disguise themselves to go in search of him.  Prince Florizel, meanwhile, is well and happy and has found a new love in Perdita (Cindy Im), a shepherdess, of sorts, and her band of her very merry, Hippie friends, led by Autolycus (Stephen Michael Spencer).  I cannot tell you more without spoiling the discoveries an audience should make.

I love Chiang’s view of the two worlds colliding, as it makes perfect sense with the traditional vs. the new age.  And the costumes by Helen Q. Huang are fanciful, expressive of these periods and a visual feast between the conservative, non-threatening muted look of the old age, and the revolutionary, in-your-face explosion of color for the new one.  The actors are all believable with, as often happens, the comic characters, Haugen, Tolson and Spencer, having the edge for demanding our attention in the entertainment field.

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

The Nature of Contrivance

Most stories, in one way or another, as conceived by their creator/author, are contrived.  This means that the story has been arranged in such a fashion that it can only lead inevitably to one conclusion, meaning that everything must be manipulated toward that end.  But Life is usually not Contrived, but Random (although some might justifiably argue that point), meaning that your choices at various crossroads, with endless possibilities, can/will be changed.

Shakespeare’s plays are full on contrivances/manipulations to make them work, which is as it should be, due, as mentioned above, to knowing how the creator wishes the story to turn out.  Where Mr. S. seems to fall on his face, is in his creation of motives (or, more specifically, lack of) for his villains/antagonists, which are crucial in directing a tale toward its conflicts and conclusions.

Most these characters, although juicy roles for actors, have little or no motivation for their actions.  For instance, Shylock, a money-lender, would rather have a pound of flesh to pay a dept; Lear, a popular King, allows his vanity to get the best of him, thus ruining a kingdom; Iago, a faithful soldier, would allow his hurt for not getting a promotion, put in motion actions that would lead to the death or ruin of many people, including his wife; Oberon would allow his wife’s fawning attention to a boy-child over him, propel him to set in motion a series of misadventures toward innocents; and, in this tale, Leontes allows the “green-eyed monster,” jealousy, to get the best of him, when he imagines his wife having an affair with his best friend (who he has pushed together), causing misfortunes for all of them, including his own children….  REALLY!!!  Is anybody watching these contrivances take place actually buying any of it?!  I doubt it.

On the other hand, a villain, like Richard III, that comes out at the beginning of the play and tells you for personal reasons he is going to cause havoc on all those who cross his path, I can believe, because he’s not conning you as to “contrived” motivations.  When a troubled youth, such as Hamlet, through circumstances he may not fully understand, is responsible for the deaths of others, he can be believed because he is a victim lashing out, not a perpetrator contriving phony reasons.  In other words, let the motivations be part of the character, not in spite, or separate from, the character.

The Ashland Experience (part I)

My favorite spot to eat and imbibe, The Black Sheep, pub and restaurant (upstairs), 51 N. Main St., is still there.  Look for the red door On The Plaza ( 541-482-6414 ).  Their main fair is traditional food and drink from the British Isles: England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland.  I had the blackened and blue burger on one night, but my favorite the next evening was their Shepherd’s Pie, to die for (and just a hint of horseradish), which livens up the bowl.  My friend, Dave, also had a dessert of the Bread Pudding, which he thought was tops.

What is especially nice about the place is the friendliness of the staff, Karen and Lee being there when we visited for meals, as they want to make you feel like family and chat with you.  They are also open late every night after the plays for snacks, drinks or desserts.  And they have a great interior look, complete with an English phone booth, and a chandelier over the bar that has to be seen to be believed.  I look forward to my next visit!

I highly recommend this spot.  If you do stop in, please tell them Dennis sent you. 

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