Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Greetings from Ashland, Oregon, where the smoke from the nearby fires has finally abated! (Mostly.) (It had to wait until right before we went home...)

We drove up over Sunday and Monday, stopping overnight at Dad's brother's house. That was fun because I got to see my aunt, uncle and cousin who I very rarely see. Then we arrived on Monday night, with our first play set for Tuesday afternoon.

I don't know if you've ever been to Ashland. It's a very beautiful town. I'm not sure if I'd want to live here full-time, but I love visiting. There's a great green garden called Lithia Park, where the ducks roam freely and the river rushes over rocks and boulders. I love walking through it, and occasionally hauling my cello out to try and make a little money. (A few years ago I got $30 in an hour. No such luck this year--$3 in just under two hours.)

And the plays! The real reason my family comes up is for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We saw one play per day this week, and all of them were wonderful.

Play 1: The Taming of the Shrew in the Angus Bowmer theatre.

The Angus Bowmer is a big indoor theatre. It's very versatile, set-wise. This year I saw three plays in it, each with a radically different set.

Taming was set in a sort of late-1950s New Jersey amusement pier. The music was rockabilly, and the clothes were often ridiculous. The language was thoroughly Shakespearean, but that was about it for the Bard.

Taming is always a hard play to pull off these days, so I've heard (this was the first time I've seen it). OSF did it really well.

Taming was set in a sort of late-1950s New Jersey amusement pier. The music was rockabilly, and the clothes were often ridiculous. The language was thoroughly Shakespearean, but that was about it for the Bard.

Warning: Spoilers.

Basically,  there’s this girl called Bianca who has two suitors. She’s not allowed to get married until her older sister, Katherine, does. The problem is that Katherine is a “shrew”—she’s not very pleasant to be around. She’s a total wildgirl who tortures her sister and scares off any prospective suitors. I liked her.

 A new guy called Lucientio comes to town (in this case Padua) and falls head-over-heels for Bianca (this is in addition to her two suitors). Then Petrucio, who was a tough, tattooed biker dude in this version, arrives looking for a rich wife. One of Bianca’s suitors convinces him to go after Katherine. Petrucio and Katherine, who he calls Kate, don’t exactly hit it off, but they’re certainly a match for each other—no one else would have either one of them.

A lot of other stuff involving Bianca and her suitors happens too, but I’m going to focus on Petrucio and Kate.

The thing that theatres have a hard time with these days is that after Petrucio and Kate get married, Petrucio uses some harsh wife-taming techniques including starvation and sleep deprivation. He finally gets her to agree with him that the moon is the sun. The thing I liked about this version is that even though Petrucio’s messing with Kate, getting her to agree with whatever he says, you can tell from the actors’ body language that she’s messing with him right back.

There’s a tricky bit at the end where Kate has a speech about how women should be obedient to their husbands. OSF softened that with body language again: There was this moment when Kate whistles and makes a “Get your butt over here or else” motion at Petrucio, the kind of thing you do to call a dog.

This play definitely wasn’t my favorite, but I did like it.

Play 2: The 10th Muse, also in the Angus Bowmer.

This one was fantastic. It's a world premier, so you probably haven't seen it. It's about this girl, Jesusa, in Mexico in 1715. She's been sent from one convent to another, to care for a sick sister (Sor Isabel, who in addition to gradually losing her sight is a bit of a rebel nun…). Arriving simultaneously are her roomates: Tomasita, an Indian of the lowest caste who will be working in the kitchens, and Manuella, a noblewoman who will be staying at the convent for several months.
The girls “enjoy the convivial chef, Sor Filomena, and try to stay clear of both the irritable Sor Rufina and the fearsome Mother Superior” (a quote from the playbill).

The girls are situated in an old storeroom, filled with useless junk and some rather useful objects as well.

Also in the room is an old wardrobe. When the girls finally get it open, they discover that it’s full of papers. Stories, love poems, plays, all forgotten—or were they hidden?

Jesusa, Tomasita and Manuella begin to act out a play in the evenings for their own amusement.  Then Sor Isabel (remember her? Rebel nun?) catches them at it. She recognizes the papers as being the work of the famous Sor Juana In├Ęz de la Cruz, who lived in the convent and died twenty years before. Sor Isabel thought they had been burned…

And I'll leave you hanging there. Go see the play if you get the chance!

Plays 3 and 4 coming soon, along with other exciting tales!

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