Posts Tagged ‘oregon-shakespeare-festival’
Today’s the day: THE GREAT SOCIETY by Robert Schenkkan opens in the Angus Bowmer Theatre at Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Is America poised for an uptick in epic historical theatre? The form is big in theatre meccas like the UK, but seems to go in and out of favor here in the US.
Given the recent Tony (and other) Awards bestowed on Robert Schenkkan’s ALL THE WAY (not to mention its record-setting box office hauls in New York), maybe theatre producers will realize that big historical stories can bring in big audiences. And having film and TV stars involved doesn’t hurt.
But it all starts with the writing. Nothing happens without good writing. Schenkkan is delivering a powerful reminder that important stories about the national experience (when done as well as these two plays are) deserve to be up on the big stage.
And that’s where visionary programs like Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle (AmRev) come in. Because of its size, abilities, and focus, OSF can do things (like birth ALL THE WAY and THE GREAT SOCIETY) that almost no one else in the US theatre ecosystem can do. And by golly, they’re doing it. From Ashland to Broadway. And beyond.
With 37 new play commissions planned, AmRev is just getting started. And there are so many more stories to tell. Ashland has everything in place locally to tell them. Except one thing – the writers. Those need to be found, encouraged, coaxed, enticed, courted, brought in. All OSF needs is one more thing – a writer – and ANY story can be told. But the writer just happens to be both the single most important element in the theatre universe – and the hardest one to find.
But if you were king or queen, and you had a good writer, what are the stories you would commission? Here’s one on my list.
Richard Holbrooke and the story of the Bosnian war
Holbrooke died young(ish) and recently, but he is such a key figure to late 20th century American diplomacy and fascinating on many levels. Pick up his book TO END A WAR to get a flavor for the man – but only if you have a big block of open time availabe. Because you’ll get pulled right in from word one.
The intersection of Holbrooke’s force of personality and character with the key event of the post Soviet order has all the drama you could ever want. Plus it’s the early 90’s so all sorts of other stuff was going on domestically.
Here’s a scene from a future play that I’d like to see. A sparsely furnished conference room at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. It’s the 11th hour for negotiations to end the war, and nothing seems to be working. So the four principals gather: Holbrooke, Milosevic, Tudjman, and Izetbegovic. What was said in that room?
Wanted: the writer who can tell this story.
The main event in Ashland today
Meanwhile, back at the sun-soaked ranch in southern Oregon…
Today at 1PM the second part of Robert Schenkkan’s LBJ epic, THE GREAT SOCIETY, opens in the Angus Bowmer Theatre. Check back soon for a full review.
If you’re hoping to see this first incarnation of the show in Ashland, tickets for the remaining run through November 1 are moving briskly. Don’t miss out.
And if you’re one of those types who like to plan way, way ahead? Next year’s offering from AmRev, SWEAT by Lynn Nottage, is coming.
This weekend, two different crowds are converging on Ashland, Oregon for two different reasons. Whatever your pleasure (and both involve drama), this southern Oregon hamlet at the base of the mighty Siskiyou Mountains is always a good place to be. There’s sun, fun, mountain air, theatre, highline food, and more espresso milk shakes and deluxe earl grey-infused affogatos than any mere mortal should be entitled to.
Kicking things off on Saturday, high above town at the Mt. Ashland ski area, it’s the annual running of the Siskiyou Outback 50K and 50 mile, one of the crown jewels in the Oregon Trail Ultramarathon Series. It doesn’t get much better than running on the PCT up at 6,000 feet. Oregon is now at the forefront of the national ultra running scene, and so it’s not unusual for local ringers to show up and set the trail (but not forest – careful guys) on fire.
If you survive that, hose off the dirt, get a meal and some sleep, and turn out Sunday afternoon back in town at the Bowmer Theatre for the opening performance of Robert Schenkkan’s monumental world premiere, THE GREAT SOCIETY. Based on the first preview this past Wednesday, part two of the LBJ epic completely fulfills our expectations, which were admittedly high. It’s a story (and tragedy) about nothing less than the American experiment, and though focused on the late 1960’s, many of the issues remain front and center (and unresolved) in our own time. Schenkkan cleverly turns the mirror back on us, illuminating the timeless challenges and nature of political power. Oh, and about that all-American addiction to endless war? That has to change.
Stay tuned for full reviews of THE GREAT SOCIETY and FAMILY ALBUM.
The Tony effect | THE GREAT SOCIETY is running close to sold out at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (and it hasn’t even opened yet)
The first preview isn’t until next week, and the play doesn’t open until July 27, but already part 2 of Robert Schenkkan’s LBJ epic, THE GREAT SOCIETY, is selling out down at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
I just took a look through the end of August, and there are very few tickets left.
Call it the Tony effect. Or call it what happens when playwrights tackle subjects the audience is hungry to hear about.
So if you’re thinking you might just wait until it opens and see how the reviews are – watch out. Assuming it gets good reviews, the show could easily sell out in entirety. Poof. Given the success of ALL THE WAY, part 1 of the cycle which opened at OSF in 2012, there is a huge amount of interest in this follow on play. And as far as subject matter, part 2 does sound the more interesting piece.
So don’t miss being part of American theatre history. See the world premiere of THE GREAT SOCIETY right here in Ashland where they made it.
Remember, if you miss it at OSF, you’ll also have the chance to see both parts of the cycle (simultaneously in rep) in December at Seattle Rep.
That sounds like a pretty good consolation prize.
The outdoor type: Allen Elizabethan Theatre kicks off summer season at Oregon Shakespeare Festival with strong offerings
The sun is out, the temperature is rising, and it’s time to grab a blanket and pillow and claim your seat beneath the stars in OSF’s Allen Elizabethan Theatre. The outdoor stage opened a few weeks back with strong results. Here’s quick reviews of two of the shows.
And Remember Part 2 of Robert Schenkkan’s LBJ epic THE GREAT SOCIETY opens July 27 in Ashland. After playing there through November 1, the show along with part 1 (ALL THE WAY) moves to Seattle Rep in November and December for an unheralded run in rep.
THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA
Of all the fault lines and social constructs in contemporary America – race, class, regional culture, religious affiliation – none is anywhere near as volatile on stage as gender. Upending, reversing or changing the audience’s received notion of what gender is or should be effortlessly injects a powerful note of provocative interest into almost any show, whether or not such “problematizing” of gender (as the academics call it) is itself even the chief subject.
For example, imagine a LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT with gender roles reversed, or a THREE SISTERS with transgendered men, or TRUE WEST with two sisters. Case in point would be Brian Bedford’s unforgettable performance as Lady Bracknell in 2011. Gender – the body’s socially constructed and always-being-performed role – is powerful stuff. And messing with it instantly sets the audience’s antennae a flutter. Therefore the simple fact that this production of THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA features an all women cast is one of its most interesting aspects from the very first moment. Right out of the gate this directorial choice by Sarah Rasmussen brings a lot to the show.
And it feels like women playing men is more unusual than men playing women. Perhaps because the theatre has a long tradition of men playing women, when women play men it feels more unusual, more threatening to our received sense of order, and our brains have to work a little harder to process what we are seeing into a consumable narrative. We are used to seeing men be feminine. But women being masculine? Not so much. Therefore, the fact that women are playing men here never loses its charge throughout the evening.
It would be hard to over state how appealing and sharp Christiana Clark and Sofia Jean Gomez are on stage as Proteus and Valentine. But I’ll try. Watching these two comport live in front of us, talk, laugh, and bluster is nothing short of magic. Clark has a blazing presence and force – this woman was made for the theatre. And her voice! Meanwhile Gomez is center stage again, fresh from an entrancing turn as Iris in this year’s now closed THE SIGN IN SIDNEY BRUSTEIN’S WINDOW. She is having quite a season. With her spikey, dyed punk hair style, Gomez is theatrical to the core. So much of a great theatrical experience depends on great actors, and with these two around (as well as the rest of the cast) there is plenty of delight on tap.
It’s not necessarily Shakey’s greatest work, but there’s still plenty to like here, thanks to the core concept and ample fashion hijinx. And watch out. K.T. Vogt is back, deadpanning down front with a dog. You can’t touch this.
Following up on his wildly successful run in 2010’s Hamlet, you had to wonder what Dan Donohue would be like as Richard III. Would he be more or less the same presence on stage, just in a different role? Wouldn’t he remind us of Hamlet? Would he be fresh and new? And the answer is, thanks to his superb acting ability, the Donohue we knew from Hamlet is completely unrecognizable here. He is almost a different physical specimen on stage, with stringy hair and misshapen posture and a somewhat impaired brain. If you didn’t know it was Donohue, you might not even recognize him at first. This talented actor has created another fully formed character for us, and he is compulsively watchable for the entire duration of the show.
It’s actually hard to describe exactly what is wrong with Richard in this incarnation – or who he is. And that makes it more interesting as we seek to discover whether he is putting us or the other characters on, “acting”, or if he’s just a bit of a psychopath. A lot of the time Donohue is sort of blankly numb with a look on his face that would not be out of place on the proverbial village idiot. But then his Machiavellian intelligence flashes out, and we realize this in no dummy. This Richard does not wear all his emotions (or any) on his face. Therefore we are peering in to what may simply be a moral void, wondering what motivates him and what he will do next.
Donohue has that most prized of all an actor’s possessions – a voice that can create drama and character all by itself. His vocal signature has perhaps just a touch of tobacco to rough it up, but the clarity and fine detail is truly stunning.
A split screen of two stories, WATER references big subjects like the Iraq war, cocaine addiction, and family disintegration, but does not have much new to say about any of them. Lengthy staging of “social media” dramatically inert.
WATER BY THE SPOONFUL by Quiara Alegría Hudes at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Returns Sep 4 – Nov 2
The second in a trilogy of plays about the Puerto Rican-American Ortiz family in North Philadelphia, WATER BY THE SPOONFUL follows two separate threads that eventually converge. One concerns Elliot, a 31 year Iraq war vet with serious leg injuries who is working for low pay at a sandwich shop and still trying to leave the psychological impact of his tour of duty behind him. The other follows a chat room for cocaine addicts with a crew of three regulars and one occasional visitor who is new to the game. Scenes alternate between the two worlds, and for a while it’s not clear what the link between them is.
The stronger half is the real world plight of Elliot, here played by a talented Daniel José Molina. Molina looks great in the part and deftly conjures the swagger, hurt, and confusion of a damaged Marine who has come home to no particularly promising opportunities. Elliot was raised by his aunt Ginny, who is now older and has been needing assistance from him and his cousin Yazmin, an adjunct music professor. Elliot’s actual birth mother Odessa gave him up when she descended into drug addiction. As the play begins, Elliot receives a text from his estranged father that Ginny could pass at any moment. She soon dies and Elliot and Yazmin have to tend to her funeral arrangements with scarce available funds. Also in the mix is a ghostly presence in the form of an Iraqi who keeps appearing to Elliot and repeating a phrase that has lodged so deeply in the young American’s psyche that he has asked Yazmin to put him in touch with an Arabic-speaking colleague of hers to help translate.
The addiction chat room world consists of den mother HAIKUMOM in Philadelphia, who runs www.recovertogether.com and her two addict charges ORANGUTAN, a 31 year old woman raised in Maine who has gone to Japan in search of her real parents, and CHUTES & LADDERS, a 56 year old black IRS employee in San Diego. HAIKUMON guides the other two through sobriety and provides encouragement as they struggle and/or succeed. Of course she has her own backstory with addiction. Into this status quo one day comes FOUNTAINHEAD, a wildly improbable new member who is a high-flying entrepreneur with a yellow Porsche and thinks he may have just a little problem with crack. The existing group tries to get FOUNTAINHEAD on course, with mixed results.
Whether or not anything like the chat room portrayed here still existed in 2009 (certainly it did in 1995), it feels like an extremely creaky setup. The conceit is that the characters all login now and then and then talk amongst themselves. They sit at different locations on stage and do not directly interact with each other. Most of the time they just talk aloud, and we get that they are typing and posting. But later in the play when Elliot’s narrative joins with the chat room, there are the dreaded moments when a keyboard is deployed.
Some things do not work very well on the stage. Car chases. Long walks. Closeups. And online activity, aka “social media”. We see many attempts by current playwrights to stage the minutiae of how people actually use social media, as if it is either new or even all that noteworthy. In a wide open audio medium like theatre, where anything is possible, what is interesting and compelling is THE VOICE – a character speaking. S/he might be speaking to another character who is present, or s/he might be on the phone, writing a letter, sending a telegram, sending a text. Or it could be a solo speech to the universe. Whatever the actual technology being used to transmit, the audience gets that the character is speaking. What is important is the WHAT (the character is saying), not the HOW (they say/send it).
Watching someone at a keyboard or on a mobile banging out text one character at a time that slowly appears on a screen behind them rarely works in the theatre. It is passive and undramatic and usually kills any momentum dead. Whereas in an engaging play, the action is flying along one step ahead of the audience and there’s an exciting feeling of hanging on for dear life, when it comes to dramatizing social media on stage like this, the dynamic switches and the audience waits for the slowed down play to catch up. It kills the dramatic through-line.
Did 19th century playwrights pack their works with long sequences showing people realistically tapping out telegrams just after that technology was born, or farther back putting quill to papyrus when all the cool kids were doing it? Would anything be gained by watching a character spend 5-10 seconds dialing out a long number on a rotary phone (another social media) before placing the call? Not really. Just pick up the phone and talk. With luck, we’ll soon be able to move on to a better standard way of conveying that a voice on stage is communicating via text or email or chat. But for now a lot of these exchanges are burdened by slow-moving, overly realistic rendering.
The play’s tone wobbles unconvincingly. The subjects at hand are serious, but there’s a strong sitcom, throw away one-liner energy that keeps popping out whenever it can, with many of the jokes seeming to serve no larger purpose or part of the narrative – they are simply little blips of humor that come to mind, asking for a laugh in return. It feels like the playwright has done plenty of research into the worlds of war vets and addiction and is painting by numbers to create characters based on what she learned. But none of the resulting figures has the ring of truth or authenticity.
There’s another confusing piece of fabric woven into this canvas – the music of John Coltrane. At one point Yazmin gives a dramatically inert lecture to her students about dissonance and how Coltrane’s music changed after 1965 as he moved into free jazz. The problem with inserting snippets from a masterpiece like A Love Supreme into a play’s soundtrack (other plays have the same problem when they project sections of famous films) is that unless the play is really good, you run the risk of making the audience wish you would just leave the music on. In this case, even five seconds of Coltrane’s eternal depth instantly upstages the entire play. I found myself wondering what the theatrical equivalent of such shimmering art would be, and wanting that.
It’s very hard to understand how this slight play won the 2012 Pulitzer, especially as Jon Robin Baitz’s considerably more ambitious and better executed OTHER DESERT CITIES was also in the running.
Next up at Oregon Shakespeare Festival: World premiere musical FAMILY ALBUM by Stew and Heidi Rodewald
Opening tomorrow, it’s the next show in the 2014 lineup at OSF.
FAMILY ALBUM is a new musical by Stew and Heidi Rodewald.
“Told through soul-stirring rock ‘n roll music, Family Album is the story of middle-aged rocker Heimvey and his hip and influential, but relatively low-income band. Seasoned by years of touring throughout the country and on their way to NYC to open for a popular young band at Madison Square Garden, they land at the home of a former band member. Cleo, Heimvey’s ex-girlfriend and former muse, and her art dealer husband/stockbroker Norman, live with their precocious child. The visit stirs deep questioning about choosing the artist’s life or the homeowner’s, and as alliances are formed and frayed, everyone starts to itch for what someone else seems to have, and assumptions and expectations are shuffled and shattered.”
This week: All Ashland, all the time | Places to stay, eat, hike, run (and see theatre) in Oregon’s sunny south
You probably already know that Ashland, Oregon is home to one of America’s leading theatres. But you may not know all the other incredible things about the place that make visiting such a special experience. Ashland is not a one trick pony. Not at all. It’s a renaissance town, with plenty of indoor and outdoor activities, and great food. And milk shakes. It really does have it all.
The outdoor stage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is open, so this week it’s back to the Rogue Valley to see what’s up. In addition to the usual theatre coverage, stay tuned for profiles of special Ashland gems you’ll want to know about if you’re planning to visit.
Answer pressing questions on your list such as:
Where can I get a plate of tacos?
Where can I have brunch?
Where can I have dinner?
What’s the coolest place to stay?
What trails should I run?
What coffee shop should I hang in?
What’s the best thing to do in between an afternoon and evening show?
Where can I find a drum circle?
Where can I buy patchouli and crystals?
Answers to all these and more – oh so many, many more – will be yours so very, very soon, dear reader.