Archive for the ‘Ashland 2007’ Category.

Ashland 2007 Day 4

Wednesday was a busy day for us, theater-wise.

Backstage Tour

We’ve signed up for a guided backstage tour for three straight years. They always take you to the same places in the 3 theaters, but we’ve had a different actor each year, and it’s interesting to hear the Ashland experience filtered through their individual lenses. Our guide this year was a young man who played Christian in Cyrano De Bergerac two years ago. We will be seeing him this year in On the Razzle. He’s married to an actress who is also a member of the company, and plays Rosalind in As You Like It. It wasn’t clear whether they met as members of the company, or accomplished the neat trick of separately landing positions and being able to work together over the extended season at Ashland. The actors work on one-season contracts. During the tour, he said that casting for next year’s season would be announced on Monday. Must be an exciting day for those two.

As You Like It

Ashland produced this play last in 2002. That year, they said that they were emphasizing the role of Rosalind as the more mature (as in wisdom, not age) of the pair of suitors (Orlando and Rosalind). In that production, the extended period in the Forest of Arden where, dressed as a man named Ganymede, she pretended to take Rosalind’s part as Orlando practices his mooning and courtship upon him/her, was posited as a period of tutelage, where she was “schooling” Orlando as a lover and a lifemate.

In this year’s production, Rosalind comes off as a little more ditzy and lovestruck, and with seemingly less of the moral authority that the more sober presentation in 2002 conferred on her. It’s interesting to me how different directors can cant a production and an interpretation of the same text in subtly different directions. Still, the cross-dressing convention allows her the latitude to basically drive the relationship, and in the plot and language, she is still by far the most interesting character in the play.


This play, by Lisa Loomer, is about a contemporary woman whose son is exhibiting the distressing symptoms of what we used to call hyperactivity. When they’re young, and we can devote all of our attention to them, a kid like this (and we had one in spades) is interesting and charming. As events move on, and you have to entrust them to the care of others who are not so enamored of and invested in their personal quirks, you are confronted, inevitably, with the specter of having a kid labeled, either clinically, or colloquially by his instructors, as ADHD.

As events unfold, it becomes apparent that her husband is without doubt ADHD and not nearly as ready to accede to the notion that there’s anything wrong with their kid. They work through a couple of layers of testing and psychiatry, and are eventually confronted with the binary choice of drugging or not drugging.

The writing is smart and snappy, reminding me a bit of Nora Ephron in its facile grasp of a multifaceted popular culture. I’d like to see more by this playright.

Ashland 2007 Day 3b - Gem of the Ocean

I’ve got some catching up to do, as 5 plays have slipped by since my last post.

August Wilson’s oeuvre consists mainly of a “cycle” of 10 plays about the black American experience, one set in each decade of the 20th century. Gem was the 9th play written, but the earliest chronologically, set in 1904 in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. Its action begins when a black worker at a steel mill that employs many Hill residents, falsely accused of stealing a bucket of nails, jumps in a river and drowns rather than turn himself in and serve time. Many blame his death on Caesar, the local constable and black himself.

The entire play, however, takes place in the house of a matriarch named Aunt Ester, a character whose name resurfaces in other plays in the cycle and who comes to represent a spirituality older than and separate from the American African-American experience. As the action unfolds, Citizen Barlow, the young man who actually did steal the nails, arrives at the house much burdened with guilt, seeking healing from Aunt Ester. Aunt Ester sends him on a metaphysical journey to the City of Bones, a half-mile by half-mile area on the bottom of the Atlantic built with the bones of those who died at sea during the Middle Passage, borne in a paper boat she’s fashioned from her own slave’s bill of sale.

Citizen Barlow, in the process, is reattached to his culture and becomes a scion of it. This is an important, perhaps the overriding, theme of Wilson’s writing - the evocation of a culture and identity that he feels was lost in both the forced journey from Africa, and again in the migration from the agrarian south to the urban north:

Wilson’s plays clearly demonstrate the tensions between blacks who want to hold onto their African heritage and those who want to break away from it. As a result of being pulled in different directions, violence often breaks out among blacks in Wilson’s plays, yet that violence is often misdirected. (from an informative discussion of Wilson here)

Caesar, in attempting to begin assimilating into white culture, is disdained, and ultimately disowned when he arrives to arrest Aunt Ester for harboring accused criminals.

The play was cast using actors who have been in the Ashland company, some for many years. Although the Ashland audience has to be about 99% white, the Festival has been freely using black actors in traditional and non-traditional roles since we’ve been coming. It’s interesting, though, to see them performing as an ensemble.

The “message”, if you will, is definitely the foundation of the play, but Wilson’s writing and character development make it a rich and pleasing experience, and not merely an exercise in didactics and white guilt. While I’m close to “hitting for the cycle” with Shakespeare (I’ll have to check to see if there are any of his plays I haven’t seen), I’m interested in seeing all of Wilson’s cycle as well.

Ashland 2007 Day 3

Tuesday we had just one evening play, so we (OK, I) dawdled a bit in the morning, and then drove about 10 miles south of town to Mt. Ashland. The Pacific Crest Trail winds through the Siskiyou Mountains around Ashland, and we hiked a stretch of it that we’ve liked in past trips. We had been promised a week of cloudless, sunny weather, if a bit toasty (low 100s F), and I was surprised to see this sprig of cloud. It kept building, however, and by evening we were having thunderstorms.

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Amidst the bone-dry terrain, there were a couple pockets of bog where bees, butterflies, wildflowers and birds were frantically dancing to the tune of their truncated summer. Mrs. Perils tells me the names of the wildflowers, but I can seldom remember them.

In the upper left, a yellow jacket of some kind is hauling a moth carcass down to a buried nest.  I had watched him struggle mightily with his bulky prize, wondering if he meant to fly off with it before I saw him heading for the hole.

OK, enough with the eye candy - tomorrow I’ll address some plays.  We see As You Like It and Distracted on Wednesday, as well as taking a guided backstage tour.

Ashland 2007 Day 2

No plays on Monday. My mom was pretty bagged from the long day on Sunday, so we left her in the cottage and drove east of town a few miles to a little hike we like here called the Grizzly Peak Trail.
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It was a Butterfly Barrio up there, they were all over the place. Here are two pair at different stages in their - um - courtship:

Further up the path, a fairly nonchalant deerlet was grazing away, and every now and then casting glances at us:

As the sign mentioned, there was a fire up there in 2002, and it makes for some eerie landscape to hike through:

I was startled to look down at the trail and see a bare footprint - some lady Sasquatch? A forest nymph clothed in something diaphanous woven from fern? They continued for a long way down the trail. We never saw who they belonged to.

Back in town, we took a short walk after dinner with my mom, and happened on this little performance in the town’s band shell.  It’s pretty hilarious. (Youtube video - click the cartoon icon):

Off for another hike, then Gem of the Ocean tonight.

Ashland 2007 Day1

We’ve been making this trip to Ashland annually since 1994, when a group from our son’s school started coming down, and we tagged along as fellow-travelers. Those early trips involved a driving day (it’s 8 hours down I-5 if you’re willing to dine on granola bars and accept catheterization), 3 days of 2 plays each, and another driving day back. After the first year, that itinerary began to seem far too rushed, as we started finding other things we liked to do here, including some incredibly nice hikes, and we started adding days to the trip in order to accommodate them.

We also started flying down instead of driving. I love getting on these Horizon commuter planes, cuz they’re almost always taking me someplace fun here in the Northwest.

The festival runs from February to November in three theatres. Throughout this season, they will produce 11 different plays, although not all run concurrently. We’ve been buying a membership in the Festival for a number of years, and that allows you to participate in a member’s ticket presale in November. Consequently, our seats just rock. We were in the 4th row for the Cherry Orchard yesterday, and that’s the farthest away we’ll be from the stage - the rest are 1st or 2nd row. Here’s the rest of our schedule:

  • Gem of the Ocean - August Wilson - Tuesday night
  • As You Like It - Wednesday afternoon
  • Distracted - Lisa Loomer - Wednesday evening
  • The Tempest - Thursday evening
  • Taming of the Shrew - Friday evening
  • On the Razzle - Tom Stoppard - Saturday evening

I probably need a little more time to seriously reflect on the two we saw yesterday (there are no plays on Mondays here). In The Cherry Orchard, an old life is coming to an end as a family estate that has served as a touchstone for characters from various social and economic strata is falling into receivership and being sold. If you have some background on Chekhov’s life and times, the specific archetypes of his Russian society will reveal themselves; if you don’t, it’s still a gentle, but focused, discourse on impermanence.

Tracy’s Tiger was adapted by several OSF people from a novella of William Saroyan’s. It revolves around a young man who blows his chances with a girl with whom he’s besotted, and spins into dissolution. En route, he encounters various other people who seem to have had one main chance in life followed by decades-long denouement, and he despairs of getting another chance with his squeeze. He is accompanied by a familiar whom he characterizes as a tiger (though he’s played by a human actor), that acts as his muse and scourge. His paramour also has a familiar, and the romantic byplay between the two familiars seems to have more spark and sexual potential than the 3-dimensional characters’.

Anyway, it’s presented as a musical, which is problematic to me, as I’ve said before. Some things fold neatly into musical rendition, and others seem tediously belabored, as when a 5-minute song delivers a sentence of plot. I probably need to see more musicals. I did enjoy this production, though. For one thing, it was a revelation to see actors whom I’ve watched for years in spoken roles suddenly burst into unlooked-for singing voices.

Another interesting aspect of the Tracy’s Tiger production was that one actor, who had a fairly significant role, could not perform at the last minute, and his understudy had to be located and reeled in. The understudies wear pagers on the days when they may be needed, but they may be immersed in some domestic travail when the call comes. On a backstage tour last year, a long-time actor related how he’d been running a roto-tiller when his pager went off. Last night, the understudy carried notes on the stage (which is expected), but didn’t seem to need them much except, interestingly, when singing.

Because of its length and robust funding, the Festival provides almost a full year’s work for its actors and, although contracts are only proffered for a year at a time, many of them have had long runs, and it’s fascinating to see them morph from one role to another, often on the same day. We also see them wandering around town doing the same stuff that any other small-town resident does in his off-hours: shopping, eating in restaurants, buying pre-performance coffee at Starbuck’s - but for us, with our familiarity with them, it’s so much like seeing rock stars on the street. Yesterday, one of Mrs. Perils’ heart-throb actors was in the check-out line of a grocery store. Mrs. Perils said something to indicate that she thought we were finished shopping. I reminded her that we still needed to buy wine, and was entrusted with that task by myself while she helpfully obtained a place in line.

We pushed our visit back a couple of weeks this year from our usual time so that we could secure a cottage that we really like. It’s only a couple of blocks from the theatres, and it’s nestled down by a lovely, cool creek. That’s my mom standing at the rail, whom we’ve been bringing along with us the past few years:

It’s next door to, and shares a deck with, a pottery/sculpture studio of some kind, and there are finished and in-process works strewn around the walkways.

OK, we’re going off into the woods for a hike. More photos and such later.