Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Shakespeare, et alia

During three of the past five summers I spent a week at the Santa Fe Opera, watching the dramatic, distant lightning backlight the stage and enjoying some wonderful productions of La Somnabula (with Nathalie Dessaye), Tea: a Mirror of Soul (composer Tan Dun), and last year’s beautiful Billy Budd and Le nozze di Figaro. This year’s main attraction was La Dessaye in Traviata but having heard an excellent La Traviata at LA Opera this spring I decided to skip Santa Fe and its tempting art galleries to join the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Although I was attacked by hornets and fell in Lithia Park, I still had a splendid time.

Apparently I had not been in Ashland since 1993 when I saw wonderful productions of Lips Together, Teeth Apart, The White Devil, A Flea in Her Ear, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, and Richard III. Where had the time gone? Mostly in Europe, I figured, as I traversed the Atlantic a good 15 times in the 90’s and 2000’s. So to catch up, this year’s goal was eight plays in eight days, and I just fell (literally) short.

I had an inspiring journey to Ashland, flying into Oakland where longtime friend, Gary K, picked me up and whisked me northwards. Our first stop: the California Maritime Academy. Why? You may well ask. The Maritime Academy was the last stage of my CSU pilgrimage; I now have visited each of the 23 campuses in our system! Next, on to Redding! Why (again), you might ask? We stopped to view the Calatrava designed footbridge, a contemporary architectural triumph, a taut harp strung for our pleasure.

Once in Ashland, we immediately set out to see plays but Henry VIII was an inauspicious beginning. While Vilma Silva was a strong Catherine of Aragon and delivered a powerful, impassioned defense of her wifely devotion, the play is one of Shakespeare’s weakest. Henry comes across as a vapid lightweight with barely sinister overtones. The second day we saw a quite timely Depression era story, Clifford Odets’ Paradise Lost, followed by a delightful new production of Don Quixote. On subsequent days and evenings we enjoyed convincing productions of All’s Well that Ends Well and Servant of Two Masters in the New Theatre (anxiously awaiting a patron’s name). We were unfortunate witnesses to a noisy, shouted Macbeth wherein for the very first time I heard an audience laugh, YES, LAUGH, at Macbeth’s “She should have died hereafter. There would have been time for such a word.” Luckily, we previously had enjoyed Bill Cain’s new play, Equivocation, which invokes “the Scottish play” while addressing contemporary anxieties about freedom of artistic expression, state-sponsored torture, and religious strife. Especially within the context of a “Shakespeare festival,” Equivocation touched nerves, stroked the egos of knowing Shakespearian connoisseurs, and left probing, unanswered questions; in short, a decent evening at the Theatre.

And speaking of connoisseurs, we also found time one afternoon to see Julie and Julia, a cinematic sonnet to Julia Child in which I reveled. While I have seen very few programs from her television series, I learned to cook by reading From Julia Child’s Kitchen. I never deboned a duck or baked one in puff pastry, but I did learn to make that puff pastry, and gateaux, mousse, and other gourmandises thanks to Chef Child. Bon app├ętit!

After a few weeks of work apparently my taste for drama had not been whetted, nor my taste for fresh air. This past weekend I fled the smoke and Station/Morris fires, heading down to San Diego for a long weekend at the Old Globe and catching up with old friends and familiar places. After a pilgrimage to Bread & Cie and Peet’s Coffee on University Avenue, I met Karen K for dinner at a French bistro in downtown San Diego. Then, off to The Mystery of Irma Vep, Charles Ludlam’s play that ran most of the time I lived in NYC in the mid-80’s but that I never saw there. (Way back then, I did enjoy his Ridiculous Theatre Company’s production of Galas: A Modern Tragedy, naturally starring Ludlum himself.) Irma cuisinarts a variety of genres to create a satisfying comic shake with flavors that cinema, theatre, and comic fans will enjoy identifying. Karen and I wanted to recommend, then were vexed to learn that Sept 7 was its final showing. Then to a Coriolanus with a hulk-like hero dripping in bloody sweat. How had I missed this play? And how could Shakespeare, once again, remain so topical in a tragic state tragedy in which everyone is wrong? Finally, a delicious Twelfth Night set in the 50’s on the Italian Riviera. Yes, it worked, exceedingly well, and the Viola (Dana Green) as well as the Feste/Fool (James Newcomb) worth the drive to San D! I met up with other dear friends during the weekend, whom shall remain to you mysterious, and then buzzed home early to beat the traffic to enjoy lunch and dinner in my own back yard, smoke and ash free. Somehow I squeezed in the end of Melanie Oudin’s match and ascension to the quarterfinals of the US Open as well as Federer’s balletic leap into that selfsame round.

Sometimes, amid smoke, ash, and furlough Fridays, life can be grand and we can be so lucky!

Photo of Oregon Shakespeare Festival available under GNUFDL1.2.

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