Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Oregon Shakespeare Festival - The Bard's Works under the Stars (Part Four)
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has three great works from the pen of William Shakespeare at the 1190 seated Tudor Style Elizabethan Amphitheatre, which is one of the only theatres of its kind in the United States. The three plays show the great genius of The Bard of Avon in comedy, tragedy and historical venues. Three of the plays are on the large stage while a prologue to the historical play Henry VI, Part 1 is at the intimate New Theatre. All are worth seeing.
Much Ado About Nothing, first presented in 1598, is one of Shakespeare's most delightful plays. OSF has produced this play eleven times over the years, and it is certainly a crowd pleaser for the Festival audiences. The story of the love/hate relationship of Beatrice and Benedick has been celebrated on the screen and even in an opera by the same name.
OSF has staged this production as a broad screwball comedy of the 1930s, with period costumes of the '30s and music with a zany '30s beat. There is even a tango wedding at the end of the play. One is reminded of the RKO comedies with Hepburn or Lombard of that period when seeing this romp. The main plot is that Hero (Tyler Layton) and Claudio (Joe Viramontes), through the dastardly doings of Don John (Chris Butler), falsely give the impression that Hero is not pure and true to Claudio. These two don't have the passion and vivacity of Benedict (Brent Harris) and Beatrice (Robin Goodrin Nordli), who have a vigorous disdain for each other. Both have said that marriage is not in their plans - and certainly not to each other.
Much Ado About Nothing sparkles with new touches, but it never forgets that this farce starts with the Bard's words. Actors come and go on stage doing little dances, giveing the play a nice, light feel. The set is a vine-covered, elegant garden of Leonato (Richard Elmore), governor of Messina.
Brent Harris, who plays the John Barrymore role in OSF's production of The Royal Family, does the same hammy but wonderful performance as Benedick. It's Mr. Barrymore playing in the Shakespeare play. Robin Goodwin Nordli as Beatrice comes straight out of the screwball comedies of the '30s with her acting. The timing of these two as they banter back and forth is first rate. Richard Elmore is wonderful as Leonato, especially when the group is plotting to get Beatrice and Benedick romantically inclined. James Newcomb is a real hoot as the ridiculous constable Dogberry while Joe Viramontes is good as the callow Claudio. Tyler Layton gives a polished performance as Hero the wronged fiancée. Chris Butler as the villainous Don John has very little to do but slink on and off stage. Much Ado About Nothing runs through October 10
Shakespeare's King Lear is a difficult play to present, as it demands a great actor who is adept in the complexities of the a king who goes mad. Many great Shakespearean actors who reach a certain age want to play Lear, and some have done it magnificently.
Kenneth Albers, one of OSF's favorite actors, has wanted to play Lear for several years and he finally has his chance to play the confused monarch. This is an entirely different role from his prior successes, in the Henry IV series (as Falstaff) and in The Man Who Came to Dinner. Mr. Albers acquits himself as Shakespeare's outcast king. He gives a superb performance, especially when he goes mad in the second act. This man is a wonderfully natural speaker of Shakespearean verse. Every word is crystal clear. He retains his robust stature even when going insane.
Lear's daughters are played by Maya Thomas (Goneril), Catherine Lynn Davis (Regan) and Julie Oda (Cordelia). All are good; however, they display very little emotion as to their evilness. Even their speech in the opening scene when the kingdom is being divided lacks impact. Ray Porter gives a creditable performance as Earl of Kent while Gregory Linington as Edgar poses as a mad fool with some over-the-top acting. Joe Viramontes as the bastard Edmund is not villainous or sly enough in his role, while Robert Vincent Frank as Lear's Fool seems lost.
Lear's set by Marjorie Brandley is very rustic with earth tones, and the costumes by Susan Tsu are inviting and proper. The whole production is not as moving as some of the Lears I have seen in the past.
King Lear runs through October 8th.
Henry VI - Parts 1, 2 and 3
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival continues its season of the Kings of England by presenting the history of King Henry VI, part 1, 2 and 3. This is the history of one of England's weakest kings told Tudor style to show their propaganda machine of the day. There is no doubt about it, but good King Henry VI was not a warrior king, since he firmly believed in compromise to spare bloodshed on both sides of the Channel. Henry would have made a better monk then a monarch.
OSF has placed part 1 of King Henry VI in the intimate New Theatre and parts 2 and 3 in the large outside Elizabethan Amphitheatre. Part 1 is actually a prologue for the breakdown of civil order and the open wars between France and England in parts 2 and 3. It is also the prologue for the famous War of the Roses between the Houses of Lancaster, sporting the red rose, and the House of York, using the white rose as its symbol.
Part 1 opens with Henry V's death in 1422 and, the fighting between the English and the French for lands conquered by Henry V. It ends in 1444 with the marriage of Henry VI to French princess Margaret of Anjou. There is a large cast of actors taking dual roles, with the exception of some of the major characters. The play centers around Joan La Pucelle, also called Joan of Arc, and the split between the families of Lancaster and York. The Bard wrote the play in 1592, just four years before the Spanish sent their Armada to invade the British Isles. England was both powerful and apprehensive when the play opened at the Rose Theatre.
Shakespeare experts say that, of all the historical plays, Henry VI is one of the least compelling. It has never had the popularity of Richard II, Henry V or Richard III, the main reason being that this play is what is called a "drum and trumpet" drama. The characters come in and out, and you have to have a score card to keep track of all of the nobles on both shores. It also helps if you have some knowledge of this king. The play is anti-Catholic, anti-French and it is defamatory in its treatment of Joan of Arc.
Henry VI part 1 needs no great acting; however, Cristofer Jean is right on the mark as the weak king who wants only for people to love one another. You might say he is the original flower child. He plays the role very ethereal, and one can see Henry is ill-fit to be King of England. Jonathan Haugen gives a rousing performance as Talbot while William Langan is very good as Richard Plantagenet. Tyler Layton is good as Joan and plays the role as a very confused and maybe somewhat mad person. This is how the English saw her during this time.
The small stage is almost bare, with wooden slat structures representing a French castle on the left with a big Fleur de Leis painted on it side, and the English castle with the Lion of England on the right side. There are many battles fought in the small space between these abutments.
Henry VI Parts 2 and 3 moves to the large Elizabethan stage, and it is more grand due to the size of the stage. Directors Libby Appel and Scott Kaiser have combined the two parts into one magnificent chronicle. Some of the subplots are now missing as we see the good, well-intentioned king who is such a weak leader that the bitter rivalry known as the War of the Roses springs up between the two houses. As a result, the historical play becomes a political intrigue drama and we see more elaborate warfare between the Lancastrians and the men of York.
Sides are constantly changing and the throne of England changes hands several times with the play ending with the House of York King Edward IV taking over the reigns of government. We are introduced to that wily character known as Richard III in this play. We see the beginnings of the scheming of this man who will killed his way to becoming England's last Plantagenet king.
Cristofer Jean once again is Henry VI, and he is given more substance in this part, as he continues his ethereal role as the ineffectual king. Robin Goodrin Nordli is outstanding as Queen Margaret, the strong and ruthless wife of Henry. She dominates the stage every time she appears. Ray Porter, Gregory Linington and James Newcomb are excellent as the sons of York. James Newcomb plays Richard as a smarmy villain with a killer instinct. There are the occasional poetic speeches on patriotism as this three hour play gives you a quick course in 15th century battles and court discords.
King Henry VI Part 1 will play at the New Theatre through October 31 while Parts 2 and 3 ends at the Elizabethan on October 9th. For tickets call to all of the show please call 541-482-4331, fax 541-482-0556 or one line at www.osfashland.org.