OSF is experiencing one of its toughest years. Smokey air from Northwest fires has clouded the Ashland skies for a good deal of the summer. The weekend I was there the company had to move their large outdoor productions into a much smaller high school auditorium. Nearly half the population was walking around with facemasks; the smoke enshrouded town seemingly overrun with bank robbers. The Festival estimates that they will lose 2 million dollars when all is said and done. And yet…the shows, the fantastic shows are still there! Forecasts are indicating clearing skies, so if you have a spare few days between now and October 28, you still have a knockout treat awaiting you in Southern Oregon. I was able to catch three of the shows last weekend. More OSF reviews from a Drama in the Hood colleague will appear here soon.
Love’s Labor’s Lost
The evening I attended, Love’s Labor’s was a casualty of the smoky conditions and had to relocate from the outdoor venue, the Allen Elizabethan Theatre to the Ashland High auditorium. In a wonderful opening bit, the four young courtiers come onto the stage covered in the facemasks seen everywhere in town. They pause and look at each other for a full beat and then go on to rip the masks off and toss them away. Yes: the show must go on!
Shakespeare constructed the slimmest plot complication upon which to hang this comedy. Led by an earnest King of Navarre, three attending Lords vow to focus on their studies for a full year and abjure the company of women. Alas they soon meet up with the lovely Princess of France and her ladies and of course, all bets are off.
One of the real joys in attending this festival is to catch the actors playing a number of different roles during the same season. Daniel Jose Molina plays the king here as well as in Henry V, Shakespeare’s history play. It is fascinating to watch this immensely talented actor flesh out two very different monarchs. While both leaders are essentially good men burdened with some troublesome flaws, they could not be more different. In this play Molina is a good natured, naïve young ruler turned cross-eyed by Eros’ arrows.
Stephen Michael Spencer has a ball portraying Berowne, one of the more astute and cynical lords. He seems to be channeling a young Jack Black in his hilarious work. Alejandra Escalante offers a charming take on the French princess, offering a highly nuanced and sensitive performance. In a moving scene late in the play, director Amanda Dehnert has the young woman purposefully remove her makeup as she accepts the burdens of becoming the new Queen of France.
Until that final solemn moment of the show, we couldn’t be in a wackier world. The production features lots of mistaken identities, spoofs on Shakespearean language and enough puns to fill a bucket. There is also a Muscovite punk band and a Bazooka squirt gun fight. The show is filled with guitar driven music, much of it sung by the charming Royer Bockus who also stars in this season’s Oklahoma. While some of the angst driven tunes don’t seem to match the light tone of the show, it doesn’t hamper the cast who tackle each song with unbridled zest.
Director Rosa Joshi has elicited a flat out breathtaking performance from Daniel Jose Molina in this spellbinding production staged in the intimate Thomas Theatre. Playing Henry V, Molina has us believing each line he utters occurred to him right then and there. No longer the free wheeling Prince Hal seen in Henry IV, the new king must skillfully traverse a minefield of obstacles set up by the French and a handful of rebellious Englishmen. Henry V must be many different men during the course of the evening. Sometimes fearfully tenacious, sometimes thoughtful, often surprisingly modest, the young ruler constantly reshapes himself as the moment requires. Molina nails each nuanced change in character.
Along with choreographer Alice Gosti, Joshi has done a masterful job taking the audience through the different settings on the fields of France that make up the scenes for the battles between the British and Charles VI’s men. A minimalist set and a wonderfully imaginative use of blocking and costuming keep the war tale moving at a brisk clip throughout its two-hour plus running time.
The production most notably explores the ambiguous feelings over the outcomes of battle. The play features some of the most stirring motivational fighting speeches in our language, including Henry’s “Once more into the breech!” Yet the war’s bloody toll is powerfully set forth through highly stylized and effective stage business. This is a Henry V not to be missed.
This one act, also staged in the Thomas Theatre, explores the conflicts and pain engendered by the harsh treatment Native Americans have been subjected to in our country. Playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle spins an intriguing tale involving Jane Snake, (the talented Tanis Parenteau) a Lenape Indian embarking on a new career in the manically high-stakes world of Wall Street, Manhattan. A parallel story unfolds set in 17th century Manahatta (Manhattan’s original name) featuring the tragic results of the Dutch colonists’ invasion of Indian Territory. The Indians have no concept of ownership of land while the Dutch claim confidently “No one gets to live here for free.” This jarring disconnect resonates in the play’s other plot lines.
On Wall Street, Jane is offered a job the day her father passed away back at her home in Anadarko, Oklahoma. She returns there to be with her mother (Sheila Tousey) now faced with seemingly insurmountable hospital bills. Tousey does a stellar job portraying the unique pride and strength of a woman who is constantly hemmed in by a society that little appreciates the nature of her native culture.
The tale of the mother’s harrowing plight develops simultaneously with the narrative of Jane’s experiences in Wall Street trading and the historical story of the original Manahatta conflict. The back and forth echoing of the three plots makes up the structure of this compelling drama. Director Laurie Woolery observes in her program notes, “History will continue to repeat itself unless we authentically interrogate where we’ve been.”