Great Theatre

“What a piece of work is man….”

Wow, 6 days in Ashland and we saw 8 brilliant performances of great theatre and one not so brilliant. That’s gotta be the way it is though, there always has to be one you complain about when the gushing is done with all the others. We saw some astonishing Shakespeare starting with ‘Hamlet’ starring our fav Dan Donohue and featuring the most amazing and surprising takes on Ophelia that I have ever seen by a young actress named Susannah Flood. She broke out of all the stereotypical fragile, long blond tresses wrapped in flowers, approach and showed us a young teenager who gets herself all tangled up in politics that are way over her head while developing a bigtime crush on Hamlet and then having to betray him for her dad, and then it all just being too much for a teen to bear, seeing her boyfriend betrayed and her father killed and everyone not believing anyone, especially her. It was a riveting performance, made all the more amazing by Donohue’s Hamlet that was richly filled with wonderful complexities.

Many other productions that astonished and astounded:

‘Well’ – a new play performed in “metatheatre” style. Where the characters popped in and out of scene and became the actors relating with the audience and each other as actors and as characters. Also dealing with wonderful complexities surrounding wellness and illness and integration, both racially and personally.

‘Pride and Prejudice’ – A wonderful adaptation of Jane Austen’s Novel filled with all the wit, irony, and sarcasm that is running though her social comments of the time. I realized that I hadn’t read much Jane Austen and my friends Doug and Anne Grete who were with us had and they said that the book sang and lived beautifully in this theatre adaptation that danced its way across the ballroom of a set.

‘Ruined’ – An emotionally devastating play about war in the Congo and the rape and abandonment of the women in this war that has killed millions and lasted many years and about which we have become deaf, dumb and blind to. This playwright sticks it in our face and forces us to feel it deeply and after this gut wrenching experience of absolutely wonderful and true theatre we all walked out and couldn’t talk to each other for awhile and when we did we spoke in soft tones of awe and respect and as we recovered our emotions and dried our tears we realized that we had been awakened by yet another great play.

‘Twelfth Night’ – I have played Sir Toby Belch 3 times and seen 4 other productions of this wonderful bawdy comedy by Shakespeare and was pretty sure that I couldn’t be surprised by much in it and that my principal enjoyment would be just recalling speeches and bits and comparing it to what I had seen and done before. Wrong. What blew me away by this particular production was the way that they made everyone big and bawdy, especially Olivia the countess and Orsino the Duke. These roles are usually the straight and serious counterpoint to all the other bawdiness that is going on and in this production they were outrageously drawn too and it really worked. Also one of my favorite actresses Robin Goodwin Nordli was playing one of my favorite characters Maria, and she brought an entirely new flavor and feel to a role that I know backwards and forwards, ahh good Shakespeare is soooo good…..

‘Henry IV part 1’ – …. and good Shakespeare done badly is sooooo bad. This production seemed to be on pain killers. Everyone was sleep walking through it and the director felt like she didn’t really care about it and she just drew the short straw when the plays were handed out. And I actually love Henry IV, because of the great scenes with Falstaff and Hal. They just didn’t work though. This play is about the different connections of fathers and sons and there was no connection between Hal and either of his two fathers, Falstaff and King Henry. Because those connections weren’t there that meant there was no real reason to do the play at all and it also meant that it was difficult for us to come back from intermission. We did and it didn’t get any better.

‘Merchant of Venice’ – We sat in an outdoor theatre in pouring down rain with our hoods pulled up and our legs and feet getting soaked for over 3 hours as we watched this incredible performance playing out with the actors getting almost as soaked as we were and reaching that magical place when everyone knows that they have done something and experienced something magical and beyond the normal boundaries of theatre, just because of what they all have been though. The rain was the densest in the last 20 minutes of the play and during the curtain call. During the standing ovation with only 1/3 of the audience remaining the cast came out and smiled, laughed and clapped for all of us in the audience as well. With chattering teeth and shivering bodies we went back to our B&B and know we will never forget the experience.

‘She Loves Me’ – This wonderful sweet musical just captured us and wrapped us up in a candy box of treats and as we floated out with delicious smiles on our faces we thought about the shy moments of love in our lives and basked in the timelessness of lonely hearts coming together.

‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ – Talk about a gut wrencher. That guy Tennessee Williams sure knew something about pain and lies and how they just wind folks up so tightly. What a role Maggie the Cat is for a young woman, she basically has a one hour monolog in Act 1 and the wonderful actress that we saw in that performance completely pulled it off. The men who played Brick and Big Daddy also were incredible in creating three dimensional and complex characterizations where the pain was felt by the audience and held back and not held back by the actors. The actors were able to somehow show their pain to the audience and hide it from each other, truly a stunning performance of a play that I realize I had never seen on the stage, I had only seen it in the film and read the play. All I can say is WOW.

Well that was my review of the theatre we saw up in this beautiful corner of the world that is all about theatre. It is just so great to have places like this and so great to be a supporter of incredible art.

The four of us had great meals and good times together during the week and I went to the pool 3 times and stayed up very late every night after the theatre ‘clucking down’ with Karen.

Now I am back and it’s time to practice consciousness again. What a life.

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