"Money was maliciously introduced in ancient times as a tool of enslavement" -
Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Monday, November 8, 2010

OSF 2010 - a feast, a groaning board, a surfeit!

Wrapping up... Another season of OSF has ended but we're already looking forward to next year.
And here's the Oregonian's wrapup. Not bad!

I did want to say something here about the other 2010 plays that I saw, but haven't written about here yet, so here goes. (Earlier posts:
April May July September October - discussing Hamlet, She Loves Me, Well, Ruined, American Night, Hamlet again, and musical director Todd Barton.)

Anthony Heald as Shylock
Merchant of Venice: This production was probably the biggest story of the OSF year, really, fascinating to follow in the months before it premiered. That story revolved around the widespread animosity toward this "problem play" in recent times because of its tradition of antisemitism, in the character of Shylock, and how OSF handled that dilemma. Artistic Director Bill Rauch was determined to mount the play this year despite its problematic nature, because it was one of the original productions in OSF's first year (75 years ago). In the midst of  strong opposition to putting the play on, OSF led the community through a perfect thesis-antithesis-synthesis process resulting in the play as it was eventually produced.

Rauch and OSF brought the community together --OSF people, Jewish congregations and other community members and leaders -- in discussions and soul-searching (good article on this here) and ultimately worked through it all to reinvent the play for 2010, finding a way to present it stripped of the viciously anti-Jewish tropes that have traditionally attached themselves to it. In fact, one thing I learned from all this was that Shakespeare never wrote any of the stereotypical characteristics we're used to seeing in the Shylock character; they are simply traditional in performances. Shylock is just one of an ethnic variety of characters, all flawed in various ways. Anthony Heald -- who, a converted Jew himself, argued at first against the production, if I understood a comment by Rauch correctly -- was willingly cast as Shylock once the decision was made, and found in him a very believable, flawed human being - just like the others (including an African).

I felt that perhaps Shakespeare was antisemitic - or perhaps he was showing the ugliness of antisemitism; the production makes this difference of interpretation plausible. It shows that the author was equally unsympathetic to other ethnic groups in the story; nobody comes off well here. It's really a very dark play populated by sometimes loathsome characters, but the originality and clarity of this production lifted my mind. Venice itself emerged as the main character, a civilization diverse but divided, in which the only value was money, and in which all the other characters were caught up as reflections or refractions of that essential circumstance.

mixed-era costumes in Merchant were genius, placing the story squarely in Venice yet connecting it to modern times, as the story called for
And in bringing out so clearly Shakespeare's emphasis on commerce as the common element that brings the characters together, and the blade that destroys them, this production of the play emerged for me as a powerful satire of modern times, in our day of corporate potentates. I never expected to appreciate it so well.

Now for Throne of Blood and Pride and Prejudice: there's a range! I said a bit about both in my earlier post about composer Todd Barton.

Throne of Blood: this is based on the classic Kirosawa film that was based on Macbeth... and I must say I liked it much better than I've ever liked the original play, or the film. Macbeth has never been one I liked much (I confess I skipped the Macbeth plays that were mounted last year at OSF) nor am I a fan of Japanese film, really, and despite some film studies in college and several years of going to the AFI theatre in DC, I somehow managed to avoid seeing anything else by Kurasawa. That's how uncultured I am when it comes to Japanese film. In the end I went to see this play simply because everything else I'd seen this year was so good, and I kept hearing such good things about this one, that I felt I owed it to myself. I'm very glad I did.

Kevin Kenerly as the tortured Macbeth-Washizu
The wonderful Cristofer Jean as First Forest Spirit 
It was clear, fast-moving, and conveyed a powerful antiwar message. Together with Barton's original score, which glued the whole production together, it was multi-media, drawing on the cinematic origins, with a screen across the top of the stage that reflected changes in scene. This worked perfectly with the choreography as the play moved right along, in a spare but powerful Japanese style. The actors were all wonderful too. There was even some humor. At least interesting, at times very moving, and aways riveting, it was a visual feast and a fabulous, fascinating production all around. For more, here's a good article on the production.

Pride and Prejudice: Another adaptation, beautifully done. It was chosen from a huge variety of available adaptations of the classic novel, but apparently this one is unique in not trying to tell the story from Elizabeth's point of view. It becomes an ensemble piece and all the characters shine.  And that polished hardwood floor! And the chandelier! And the music and dancing! All around, a clever, witty, absolutely charming entertainer that any Jane Austen fan would have to like - and that anyone not familiar with Austen could also enjoy.

Twelfth Night: This was fun, as the play usually is. The twins were great. Here's a brief review from Seattle Times (highlighted below):
Shakespeare, meet Mozart. The two titans make beautiful music together in an inventive mounting of the romp by Darko Tresnjak, ex-head of San Diego's Old Globe Theatre.
Tresnjak finds fertile parallels between the sexual politics and master-servant dynamics of Illyria, the isle where "Twelfth Night" takes place, and the realms where Mozart operas unfold.

With a marvelous topiary set by Seattle area native David Zinn, Linda Cho's decorous costumes, and live musicians echoing refrains from Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" and "The Magic Flute," this novel rendition of the familiar romp sparks and sparkles aplenty in its late 18th century setting.
The approach requires (and gets) spirited but nuanced acting from arresting Christopher Liam Moore, as a dark-tempered Malvolio, Michael Elich as the commedia-style jester Feste and others. But some, like Miriam A. Laube, who mugs it up as the lusty aristo Olivia, need reining in.
Oh, I don't know about that last comment, really. For me, Miriam Laube can do anything she wants and I'll love to watch her! If she wants to chew scenery she does it beautifully. Another treat was that one of the "live musicians" - strolling players onstage much of the time - was our own Ashland favorite, young violinist Aaron Moffatt, who was completely at home onstage in costume. Ashland might have world class theatre, but it's still a small town where you can watch talented children grow into extraordinary adults. May they save the world.

John Tufts and Kevin Kenerly in tragic balance
 And finally, one of my all-time favorite Shakespeare plays: Henry IV Part 1. This production did a wonderful job of clarifying the structure of the play, and also boosted the women's roles in a satisfying way, adding some lovely depth to the family relationships. I did feel they overdid the tavern scenes but the audience liked it. John Tufts as Prince Hal was sexy, intelligent and nuanced, and Kevin Kenerly as Hotspur was perfectly balanced against Hal in his impassioned, hotheaded, sincere, and equally sexy persona... both men are a treat to watch with or without their shirts on. The play was a total delight. I saw it twice and could have seen it more.

I don't understand why of all the plays this year, this one drew the smallest audiences. To me it was just as fine a production as any of the others, no less compelling, textually clear, or entertaining. Maybe the history plays are at the bottom of a popularity cycle at the moment? Personally, they're my favorite Shakespeares. In my fannish zeal for this one, it was fun to hang out in the members' lounge, where there are great background materials, and re-read the Holinshead Chronicles it was based on very closely. Shakespeare is like everything else - the more you learn about it, the more interesting it gets...

In the interest of completeness, I'll also mention the only play I didn't manage to see: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. This was one of the plays that opened the season. It was an immediate word of mouth hit and quickly became a very hot ticket. But I'm just not that interested in Tennessee Williams. What I've seen I haven't liked and with so many other things to do here, it fell between the cracks. Here's a good review of that one.

Green Show stage, outdoors on the bricks, is a community tradition
OSF Extras! I thoroughly enjoyed a Noon Lecture about Pride and Prejudice given by Libby Appel, Artistic Director Emerita of OSF and director of this play. Dan Donohue gave a wonderfully entertaining lecture on his career and on playing Hamlet; oh, all the ones I saw were great, including talks by Richard Montoya and Bill Rauch. I also went to every Preface (one for each of the plays on the Elizabethan Stage), several Preface Pluses and several post-matinee discussions, other lectures, a backstage tour, and several Green Shows this year (a tremendous variety of arts) -- and intend to break my record next year; the Green Shows are always great fun.

Thinking of coming to Ashland next year? If you come to OSF, be sure to attend as many Noon events as you can - and also the Prefaces. These extra talks on the productions are always well worth hearing, even when you think you already know the play well. Part of the fun is seeing what OSF wants playgoers to take from the play and this production of it, and part of the fun is the audience at these events. And of course you must do the backstage tour, too. That will really make you appreciate what's going on here... And as many Green Shows as you can fit into your schedule. If you time it right, and if next year's OSF follows the same schedule, on some days you can start with a noon event, go on to a matinee, then hear a post-matinee discussion (Q&A between a passionate subset of the audience and a cast member, director or writer), then a preface, then a green show, and finally an evening play all in one day. Some of those events will be free, and others in the $5-7 range. The only really pricey tickets are the plays themselves, and those are bargains compared wtih big-city theatre.

So there it was. An incredible year, and now it's over. And an entirely new one coming up soon - in early 2011. All these plays running throughout the season in constantly rotating repertory. How do they do it? It's an amazing phenomenon.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Happy Diwali

Happy Diwali everyone. Light the lamps!

Obama is the first US president to recognize this worldwide holiday.

I still remember it this way... in two striking images.

Mysore Palace illuminated (image from Wikipedia)
 As it happened, Diwali began not long after we arrived in our new college town. Thus it was a rather overwhelming introduction to a new culture, as people were very generous in inviting us to celebrations; sensory overload, but highly enjoyable! 

At every Diwali event we attended, we were urged by our hosts to make the trip to Mysore City to see the Maharaja's palace "illuminated" and so we went - and it was indeed an unforgettable sight. I was delighted to find a photo of it in Wikipedia this year (above). 

Thus my memory of the holiday is curiously dual: on the one hand, the overwhelming magnificence of the Maharajah's Palace all outlined in electric lights - and on the other, the lovely, sweet sight of small, very humble clay lamps in every window of all the villages we passed along the way.

Years later, I still treasure my own small lamp. It's like this, but in black clay, from my other home, the one in South India. Happy Diwali this day and every day.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Quiet Earth and Ever Since the World Ended (film reviews)

Really quick note... One only post in October? Well, I did feel like falling off the face of the earth for a while there, but modern medicine kept me planetbound. Then a long trajectory back; still, no energy for blogging in the past month. Maybe soon.

I did see a great film tonight (via Netflix): Ever Since the World Ended. Not for everybody, but I suspect anyone who can tolerate this blog would appreciate it. Great stuff! That's the review for this week. Until next time... Keep up the good fight!
PS here's my Netflix review: This isn't for everyone, but if you like documentaries, science and speculative fiction, indie films -- and if you aren't addicted to standard Hollywood fare -- you might well appreciate this one. I say science fiction not in reference to media sci-fi, but because it's evocative of classic literary post-apocalypse SF (especially the novel Earth Abides, which also took place in the Bay Area, after a plague). This is a faux documentary, roughly made as by amateur filmmakers, but there's nothing amateurish about the writing, concept, or acting. The characters are very believable and the story is intelligent, affecting, and thoughtful. (The extra footage is excellent too.) I was fascinated by it and, indie film festival goer that I am, found the ending sequence very believable and moving. But clearly, from some of the other reviews - not for everyone.

PPS here's my Netflix review of another post-Apocalypse science fictional movie I saw the same week, a New Zealand production that I'd somehow missed until now:

The Quiet Earth: A good story, very well told. Made in 1985 and because of old technology in the mise en scene, kind of a period piece now, but also of this time in its themes. It seems to have been reissued with the director's commentary more recently. That is really interesting, too, explaining with some humor how the special effects were created and getting into cultural and political issues underlying the story that non New Zealanders probably would not catch. Refreshing, original, and recommended.