Saturday, July 23, 2005

Two more plays

Ashland, Oregon
TWO MORE PLAYS to report on here from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We saw Love’s Labour’s Lost night before last, in the outdoor Elizabethan Theater, not an ideal theater I’ve decided for the performance of Shakespearean comedy, with last year’s As You Like It and the previous year’s Midsummer Night’s Dream in mind: it’s too hard for these aging ears to follow Shakespeare’s delicious lines tumbling about this huge, imposing stagehouse; especially when seated at almost the exact center of the audience, with maximal reverberation from every angle.

Love’s Labour’s Lost was by no means all lost, though. For one thing, it was a visual delight, as every play here this season has been (so far: we have two yet to see, and a third will not open until after we leave). Kenneth Albers, a magnificent Malvolio a couple of nights earlier in Twelfth Night, directed this play, setting it in an unspecified 1920s location while keeping all the original references to Navarre and Brabant and all that; Marjorie Kellogg provided stylish stage furnishings; and Susan Mickey invented costumes so delightful and astonishing they almost upstaged the cast.

Added to this eye feast was the slightly larger than life posturing, prancing, and positioning. Ferdinand and his three lords Berowne, Longaville, and Dumaine (Brent Harris, Jeff Cummings, Jose Luis Sanchez, and Christopher DuVal) were beautifully counterpoised by the French princess and her ladies (Catherine Lynn Davis, Tyler Layton, André Ferraz, Sarah Rutan): when Berowne asks Rosaline Did I not dance with you in Brabant once? he precipitates a verbal gavotte of a banter that typifies the entire play.

The production does perhaps go over the top with John Pribyl’s portrayal of the absurd Spaniard Don Adriano de Armado, assisted by the squeaking spritely Julie Oda as Moth; and by their counterpoise, the pedant Holofernes (played here by the hilarious Eileen DeSandre) and the curate Sir Nathaniel (James Edmondson). Armado is all but impossible to understand, but then he’s a Spaniard; Holorernes ditto, but then (s)he’s talking bad pedantic Latin much of the time.

Once again, Shakespeare represents we uncomprehending audients with clowns and dullards on the stage, Costard, Dull, and Jaquenetta (Ray Porter, Jeffrey King, Jaclyn Williams), and they represent us perfectly, following the action occasionally, understanding it infrequently, enjoying it always.

Then there’s the fascinating role of Boyet, the usher to the Princess — a role recalling Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte. Boyet’s a practical skeptic and a nearly neutral onlooker, the Audience as comprehending if you like, and Derrick Lee Weeden, who is always suave, intelligent, and stylish, was the perfect man for the role.

It’s a wonderful play, beautifully conceived, masterfully directed and produced, and often brilliantly acted, and I’d see it again in a minute. Next time, perhaps, with the infrared listening device.

OSF CONTINUES ITS INVESTIGATION of the important mid-20th century Italian playwright Eduardo De Filippo with his Napoli Milionaria!, a drama with comedy and poignancy set in Naples during World War II. In the first act, in 1942, an extended family gets by on dealings in the black market, in spite of the father's disapproval. After the intermission it is 1944; Naples has been liberated; the father has escaped from a German labor camp to find his wife apparently rich, their squalid apartment made magnificent.

This is a complex play easily approached. A big cast, a detailed set, authentic-looking props, costumes, and gestures propel a vehicle that quickly steers among madness, disease, high comedy, ordinary poignancy, and moral imperatives. Richard Elmore was memorable as the father Gennaro; Linda Alper (a co-translator of the play) as his wife Amalia; the rest of the cast just as solid, idiomatic, pointed, often moving in their keenly balanced roles.

We saw De Filippo’s hilarious Saturday, Sunday, Monday here three years ago (can it be that long?), and Napoli Milionaria! offered an enticing further glimpse of his wit and sympathy, so specific to his beloved Naples but so transferable to our own time and place. We need these plays; I’m grateful to OSF for producing them, and I hope they catch on elsewhere.

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