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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Three Great Revivals at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Besides presenting the immortal Bard’s great works, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival also presents great classics from contemporary playwrights. This season is no exception. The OSF presents Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Eduardo De Filippo’s Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Mustapha Matura’s Playboy of the West Indies. All have exceptional casts and are beautifully presented.

This production of Virginia Woolf is one of the best I have ever seen. I have a lengthy history with the classic Albee play that rocked Broadway with its explosions of language, passion and controversy in 1962. I first saw the play at the Billy Rose Theatre in New York with Uta Hagen and Arthur Hill playing Martha and George, and George Grizzard and Melinda Dillon as the hapless young guests of the battling couple. I was fortunate also to be working with the cinematography department at Warners when Mike Nichols directed the film version with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton so I had a small hand in the making of that classic. In 1976 I saw the revival at the Music Box in New York, with Colleen Dewhurst and Ben Gazzara taking over as the bombastic couple. My experience with the drama continued with the revival at the Doolittle in Los Angeles with John Lithgow and Glenda Jackson in 1989.

Director Timothy Bond has reinvented and reinterpreted the drama's timeworn cadences, and he has done it without altering a word of Albee’s text. Once again we see a dramatic portrayal of the destructive, sadomasochistic battle of the couple's tempestuous, love-hate relationships during a late night to dawn brawling encounter. George, an acid tongued late forties history professor and his boisterous, boozy 52 year wife (who also happens to be the daughter of the college president) invite a young good looking newly arrived biology teacher and his mousy wife to a “social” night at their home. There is a night of drinking, tormenting the young couple, and late night mind games. From Martha’s first line as she and George return home from yet another literary party, “What a dump,” you know you are in for a night of wicked fun. It is a roller coaster ride for three acts, and when you leave the theater you are exhausted.

The casting of this production is superb. You could not ask for any better acting than what is provided by Richard Elmore and Andrea Frye (as George and Martha) and Jeff Cummings and Christine Williams (as Nick and Honey). Ms. Frye is wonderful as the horny Martha. Her audacious behavior is grating, but when her veneer is pierced she becomes quite touching. Richard Elmore is amazing as George. We see him set to work moment by moment, slice by slice, to take his 'opponents' apart. He speaks rapidly, with his thoughts running ahead of his words. However, his strength comes when he slows down and punches a syllable exactly.

Jeff Cummings as Nick shows how calculatingly he can use his boyish charm to gain a rung on the literary ladder. Christine Williams looks like a young Vivian Leigh, and she creates a pitiful yet strong Honey. Honey spends most of the night drinking brandy, and with each drink she becomes weirder and weirder.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday

Eduardo De Filippo’s Saturday, Sunday, Monday is a delightful, delicious comedy about an Italian family in Naples. The play centers on the kitchen and, in particular, at the dining table. We see three generations of the family preparing for the ritual of Sunday dinner. Each member has a wonderful quirkiness. The family reminds my of my Italian mother and the ritual her side of the family went through for a big family dinner of pasta. The three act play opens on a weekend in 1958 with Rosa Priore lovingly preparing ragout for her family's big Sunday meal. Many things happen to members of the family during the long weekend but somehow it is all tied up by Monday morning.

I first saw this charming show at the Royal National Theater in 1973 with Laurence Oliver and Joan Plowright playing the Priores. They later repeated their performances for BBC television in 1978. Both productions were directed by Franco Ziferelli, who attempted to bring the play to New York in 1974 with an all star American cast including Eli Wallach, Sada Thompson, Jan Miner and Walter Able. However this production played only 12 performances at the Martin Beck Theatre. The play was made into an Italian movie directed by Lina Werthmuller with Sophia Loren in the title role in 1990.

Eduardo De Filippo is Italy’s playwright, second only to Pirandello. This production has been translated by actress Linda Alper and Beatrice Basso and is directed by Libby Appel. It boasts a splendid cast, with Linda Alper skillfully handling the role of Rosa. Tony De Bruno nearly steals the show with his portrayal of the jealous husband, Peppino. He is wonderful as his controlled rage finally explodes into a jealous fit at the Sunday dinner. Outstanding are Jos Viramontes as the son Rocco, Jeffery King as the bombastic upstairs neighbor, Dan Donahue as a retarded son with a domineering mother portrayed by Eileen De Sandre.

The sets include great details of a middle class Italian kitchen and dining room. There is also a very amusing touch to this charming comedy: at the beginning of the play, the announcement of no cameras, no cell phones, etc., is in Italian. This is followed by the popular Italian song “Volare” during which, most of the audience sang along. It is a great start to this enchanting comedy.

Playboy of the West Indies

The third OSF revival is the breezy, pleasant comedy Playboy of the West Indies, written by Mustapha Mantura. This play is basically the same story as the Irish playwright J.M. Synge's Playboy of the Western World, only taking place in Trinidad instead of Ireland. The comedy is about a wily young country man who arrives in town and becomes a celebrity after he claims he has killed his father. However, when the father appears the villagers turn on the young man since he has lied.

Playboy's cast is irresistible and all sport great lyrical Trinidadian accents. The young lad Ken is played by talented actor Kevin Kenerly. This role seems to have been made expressly for Kenerly. Maya Thomas plays Peggy who owns the local bar. She captures the pathos and irony contained in this play about a male ego, and she handles the role beautifully. Andrea Frye makes Mama Benin one lusty lady and she has a wonderful range of expression. G. Valmont Thomas as the hard drinking unpredictable father is the best actor in the play. He rants away with his eyes bulging. An excellent performance.

The three plays will be presented through thru November 2. For tickets call 541-482-4331 or visit www.osfashland.org.


Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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