Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival Continues Its Eclectic Season - Part Four

Also see Part One, Part Two and Part Three of Richard's reviews of this year's OSF

The Belle's Stratagem

Gregory Linington and Heather Robison
Photo: David Cooper
Hannah Cowley wrote this entertaining Restoration farce in 1780 and it became one of the most popular plays in the English theatre from the end of the 18th century through the end of the 19th century when there were questions about female playwrights in the Victorian era. At that time, the play disappeared. The OSF is presenting the first major production of this fast paced, convoluted play in 100 years.

The Belle's Stratagem takes a long time getting started, with a great many characters talking about city life in London in the 1780s. Director David McCallum says it is like "Sex and the City" for its time. All of the characters are ultra chic, affluent and secular, and they know everyone who is worth knowing. They have a lot of time on their hands since apparently none have jobs. They love to chatter and gossip on who is in bed with whom. The dialogue is not as brilliant as Sheridan or Goldsmith, and there seems to be far too many characters flouncing about. Everything is in constant motion.

The main plot involves Letitia (Heather Robinson), a well bred English rose who is in love with Doricourt (Gregory Linington), a caustic individual who is used to the excitement of French ladies. He is not too impressed with the quiet English lady whom he is supposed to wed in an arranged marriage. Letitia has a weird stratagem to win the heart of Doricourt. She will make him dislike her with rude manners, then she will turn his dislike into love as he gets to know her.

There are several subplots weaving in and out of the two hour thirty-five minute production. One involves the Touchwoods (David Kelly and Mariam A. Laube); Sir George is a controlling individual who is afraid that everyone will want to bed his beautiful young naïve wife. There is Courtall (Mirron E. Willis), is a notorious womanizer who wants to bed the young wife and tries to, via a wild masquerade party in the second act. Other typical Restoration characters include Flutter (John Tufts), a noted liar; the dotty old father of Letitia called Old Hardy (Michael J. Hume), who seems to predict a lot; a scheming widow Mrs. Racket (Caroline Shaffer), who wants the young wife of Sir George to see more of life; Villers (Mark Murphey), a man of sentiment who becomes an unofficial guardian of the young wife; plus various other folks.

Belle's Stratagem is a beautiful production, full of wonderful Restoration costumes, lush scenery and a masquerade ball that out-rivals the opening of the second act of The Phantom of the Opera. However, the whole play seems shallow and very contrived. There is a certain flamboyant nature to the production, especially in John Tufts' portrayal of Flutter - further evidence that this young man is one of the brightest actors of the OSF this year. He projects the right amount of bounce to his ostentation portrayal.

Ensemble work on the luxuriant production is excellent, with Heather Robison doing a hilarious performance of Letitia, as a rude person in one scene and becoming a lady of quality in another. Gregory Linington as Doricourt gives a first rate performance as the man of the world with a sarcastic sense of humor. Mirron E. Willis as the vain womanizer seems to go complete over the top in his acting.

The Belle's Stratagem continues in the Angus Bowman Theatre through October 8th.

Love's Labor's Lost

Eileen DeSandre and James Edmondson
Photo: Jenny Graham
Love's Labor's Lost is not one of my favorite plays from the pen of the Bard of Avon. The playwright wrote this play not for the public; it was to be performed at the court of Queen Elizabeth during the Christmas festivities of 1597. There were no recorded revivals of the comedy from approximately the middle of the 17th century until 1839. Since that time there have been many versions of the work, both in film and live theatre. I have seen shorter versions of the play at Stratford Upon Avon which were more concise than the production directed by Ken Albers.

Love's Labor's Lost is a play more to be heard than seen since it has very little action. The comedy is more of a series of encounters in which language and character are the main elements. The play does not thrust forward like a traditional plot. There are puns galore and so much rhetoric that one can become bored by the display of words. Much of the play is rhymed and the characters become almost caricatures rather than human beings.

Director Ken Albers has changed the location to 1940s England and it is like Noel Coward meets William Shakespeare. The set is an opulent English manor house of the upper class, and the women's dresses are strictly out of a 20th Century Fox movie musical. One of the characters even sports a Betty Grable hairstyle. I kept waiting for one of the characters to come bouncing onto the stage and say "Tennis anyone?"

Ken Albers has elected to give us the long version, which includes a much too long Russian Cossack dance by the three main male characters, a play within a play with Ajax and other Greek characters. The rustics look like something from the Italian commedia dell'arte. Ray Porter as the country youth Costard really hams it up with his way of words. It's often difficult to know what he is saying.

Brent Harris, Jeff Cummings and Christopher DuVal play three young men who have sworn off women for one year. Eileen DeSandre as the schoolmaster Holofernes is quite funny. She looks and acts like Miss Marple in an Agatha Christy mystery novel. Her display of "proper words" is amusing. John Pribyl plays the Spanish Don Adriano de Armando completely over the top with his fractured Spanish. Catherine Lynn Davis plays the role of the Princess in a reserved manner.

Love's Labor's Lost plays at the outside Elizabethan Amphitheatre through October 8th. Tickets can be obtained on online at or calling 541-482-4331.

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

- Richard Connema

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