Shakespeare Festival Report!
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival was fantastic, as usual. I could probably go on and on about it but I’ll try to restrict it to a few comments on each of the plays.
Romeo and Juliet: I never used to like this play when we had to read it in high school; I tended to agree with my tenth grade math teacher that the tragic outcome hinged primarily on stupidity on the part of most of the major characters, especially Friar Lawrence. On this viewing it seemed that the problem was more part of a consistent pattern of overly hasty and drastic actions by the eponymous pair, and Romeo in particular. This is a guy who hangs around his mortal enemy’s compound at night in the hopes of getting a glance at some chick he just met at a party. (Romeo, in today’s world we would call you a stalker.) Is it any wonder that he’s also the sort of person who will run off to Juliet’s tomb and take poison without a second thought? He seems like the obsessive type in general – it’s not clear that his feelings for Juliet are at all different from those for Rosaline in Act I, except that in the former case they are requited.
The play was presented in modern costume, with an urban gang look – not so original, I guess, since the 1996 movie took a similar approach. The set was very minimalist and stark – empty white floor and white walls angled towards the rear of the stage. The walls had “IN FAIR VERONA” written across them in huge thin letters. At the back was either a clock or a gigantic photo of Juliet, which was a little creepy. Visually the set was much more impressive than the costumes, creating a sense of conflict and creeping doom.
Richard II: This play is hindered by having too straightforward a plot (compared to the Machiavellian twists of my favorite of the histories, Richard III): Angry, exiled noble raises an army and overthrows the unpopular reigning king. After his removal from office Richard bitches endlessly until some guys put him out of his misery, presumably while wearing earplugs.
There are some familiar themes here, though. We have an unserious ruler who believes he has been chosen by God and launches a war he can’t pay for against a weak nation (Ireland) to rob it of its resources. Meanwhile he ignores growing domestic trouble and real foreign treats.
On the other hand, Richard takes land and money from a wealthy family, so the parallel only goes so far.
The production itself was very solid, and did a good job with what was dry material compared with the rest of the season’s offerings. The costumes were fairly medieval looking, with lots of guys in chain mail and wearing swords.
Hedda Gabler: This is the only play we saw not by Shakespeare (it’s by Henrik Ibsen). It took me a while to realize that I’d seen at least some of this before. Only the second half was very familiar, and I realized I’d seen it at Caltech. Is it possible TACIT performed just the last two acts? Mohi would know, but I believe she’s in India at the moment, so she can’t tell me.
The costumes were period, and it seems like this one would be somewhat tough to modernize, since it relies so much on the social customs of the time it was written. The set was nicely done; the setup in the rear of the stage just hinted at french doors and autumn trees in the backyard.
There’s a lot going on in this play and I don’t feel like I’ve completely digested it yet, so I won’t have much to say. It did remind me of something I read on Plastic about borderline personality disorder, and I wonder if Hedda could be so diagnosed. I’m probably way off on that one, though.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: This is another one that has never been one of my favorites. For one thing, the “Pyramus and Thisby” play-within-a-play always seemed tacked-on, since all the major conflicts have been resolved at that point. Also, the effects of the fairy magic have in the past struck me as more cruel than humorous.
This production, though, was absolutely amazing. It was by far the best one we saw this year, and I was laughing at even the parts I don’t usually find funny. The four main characters were hyperactive and over-the-top, which helped tremendously – it’s hard to feel sorry for Hermia when she’s treating Lysander in a manner reminiscent of Lina Inverse’s relationship with Gourry. (Wouldn’t the Slayers characters in an anime version of Midsummer Night’s Dream be awesome? Xellos would make a great Puck.) Oberon was especially entertaining, which was quite a surprise.
The costumes had something of a fantasy 19th century look to them, perhaps appropriate to a stage version of Alice in Wonderland. Theseus was wearing an outfit that wouldn’t look out of place on an anime villain. One interesting interpretation was a strong parallel drawn between the courts of Theseus and Oberon. The actors playing Theseus, Hippolyta, and Philostrates did double duty with Oberon, Titania, and Puck (respectively).
I still think “Pyramus and Thisby” is tacked-on, but it was very funny.
Antony and Cleopatra: Every year there’s at least one play I would have liked to have seen but didn’t. This year it was Antony and Cleopatra. Last year was Macbeth.
Tomorrow I may comment on some non-play things I experienced over the last few days, like the end of Golden Sun, The Da Vinci Code, and a white water rafting trip. And maybe… KARATE PRACTICE???