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DailyTidings.com
  • The 2012 Season In Reviews

  • Here's what Ashland Daily Tidings reviewers have said about shows currently in production at OSF:
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  • Here's what Ashland Daily Tidings reviewers have said about shows currently in production at OSF:
    "Romeo and Juliet": Director Laird Williamson magnificently succeeds in making this overly familiar classic passionate, relevant and immediate, setting it in Alta California in 1847. Williamson superimposes the tensions between the old Californio and newly emerging Anglo cultures upon Shakespeare's feuding Montagues and Capulets.
    The young Daniel José Molina as Romeo and Alejandra Escalante as Juliet are both accomplished actors and convey the heedless impetuosity and intensity of teenage love as older actors can seldom do. Michael Ganio has done a lovely, spare scenic design, using a curved adobe wall with slatted wood panels to create rooms, a garden, a crypt. The expansive screen above the set with dramatic visuals of the changing sky is by Don Darnutzer. Susan Tsu's Mexican-themed costumes are beautifully subtle and effective. In short, this is an elegant and relevant production of the timeless classic.
    — Roberta Kent
    "Animal Crackers": It's an OSF tradition: At least one play per season has to be just for fun — go for the laughs, go for the slapstick, let the actors pull out all the stops. This year, it's a production of "Animal Crackers," an early Marx Brothers' vehicle written by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind.
    Director Allison Narver keeps this three-ring circus moving briskly, utilizing actors playing multiple roles with elaborate costumes, rapid-fire scene changes, asides to the audience, a male chorus line that isn't and assorted other off-the-wall slapstick action.
    The Marx Brothers came out of vaudeville but took its conventions — and everyone else's conventions — and turned them upside down. Nothing was sacred. They offended every ethnic group equally. Groucho (exuberantly played by Mark Bedard) was the master of wordplay, puns, malapropisms and meanings turned inside out. ("Last night, I shot an elephant in my pajamas. What he was doing in my pajamas, I have no idea.") Chico (portrayed by an unbelievably versatile John Tufts) played at being an Italian immigrant. Harpo (deftly played by Brent Hinkley) made determined sexual pursuit adorable. They played to America's prejudices at the same time they methodically shot them down.
    The world of the Marx Brothers is, in fact, not so different from ours today. Perhaps we need to step back and look at the historical perspective — where we've been and where we are now. As director Narver puts it, "a little frivolity can be serious business."
    — Roberta Kent
    "The White Snake": Beginning with its use of amazingly effective snake puppets, OSF's production of the Chinese fable, adapted by Mary Zimmerman, seduces the audience into the suspension of disbelief. As the play's action is narrated by characters who appear, disappear and reappear, the story flows and the disparate story elements all manage to fit together perfectly.
    The fable is about a wise White Snake spirit (Amy Kim Waschke) who, intrigued by the human world, transforms herself into a beautiful young woman. She falls in love with and marries a mortal man, Xu Xian (Christopher Livingston). Their love is threatened by an overbearing, dogmatic Buddhist abbot, Fa Hai (Jack Willis), who is against the intermarriage of a spirit and a human and seeks to "rescue" Xu Xian from this folly.
    Zimmerman, who won a 2002 Tony Award for her direction of "Metamorphoses" on Broadway, has evolved a fascinating working technique of writing her scripts while the conceptual play is in rehearsal, utilizing insights provided by her actors and the design team as the onstage action is developed. This intuitive approach is daring and, obviously, very risky for a world premiere. Luckily, "The White Snake" is a triumph of this technique.
    Zimmerman has said that her constant in this ever-evolving tale is the dream that with the right person, "each of us can be seen down to our core, down to the unguarded, writhing part of our darkest self, and still be loved."
    "The White Snake" and Zimmerman have beautifully captured their audience with that lovely, pure thought.
    — Roberta Kent
    "Seagull": Productions of Anton Chekhov's work often miss the passion of his intensely Russian characters. We are presented with depressed and ineffective people caught up in situations that they cannot or will not change. The humor in his plays is often obscured by the sheer intensity of the characters.
    That is definitely not the case with OSF's "Seagull." Directed by former Artistic Director Libby Appel, who adapted the play from a literal translation by Allison Horsley, this production's approach to Chekhov and his characters is loving and ironic.
    Some Chekhov interpretations maintain that the "losers" in this tale are trapped and betrayed by the selfishness and narcissism of the "winners."
    Appel, however, seems to be convinced that, as Chekhov portrays them, the tragic characters have chosen to have tragic lives. The "winners" — Trigorin (Al Espinosa), Arkadina (Kathryn Meisle), Dorn (Armando Durán) and even the farm manager (John Pribyl) — take what is given to them, as flawed as it is, and make the best of it. They are insulated by being selfish and narcissistic, but they make a choice. Kostya (Tasso Feldman), Nina (Nell Geisslinger), Masha (Kate Hurster), Sorin (Michael J. Hume) and Polina (Lisa Wolpe) could make positive choices but choose not to.
    Appel has given us a complex, compassionate and superbly articulated look into this world. You may like Chekhov's structural technique or not, relate to his characters or not, but his skill as a writer, as an observer of life, cannot be denied.
    — Roberta Kent
    "Troilus and Cressida": In this fascinating play about love and war, the characters are ambiguous, the situations complex, the humor dark. There are no easy answers, no tidy resolutions. There are no straightforward heroes here. Nor are there clear-cut villains. But the action will keep you at the edge of your seat.
    Set during the Trojan War, "Troilus and Cressida" is also a play that uncomfortably reflects our own geopolitical reality. This production emphasizes that fact by placing the action during the Iraq War, with the Greeks as the Americans and the Trojans as the Iraqis.
    Director Rob Melrose has deftly superimposed U.S. military stereotypes and contemporary Middle Eastern despotism onto Shakespeare's own take on the "Iliad," though, frankly, his characters owe as much to Joseph Heller's "Catch-22" as they do to the "Hurt Locker."
    Elijah Alexander is particularly delicious in his portrayal of the brutish, unthinking Ajax, posturing and bellowing in some super-military parody, while Michael Elich brings a bitter humor to Thersites, whose disdainful commentary acts as a chorus to the action.
    Michael Locher's minimalist set effectively conveys the endless desert, with a giant Erector Set bridge as fortifications, broken monuments scattered about and a descending panel that creates a decadent Babylonian drawing room with oversized chandeliers and overstuffed furniture and — naturally — a backgammon table.
    OSF and Melrose have taken this seldom-produced play and made it immensely enjoyable and incredibly relevant. You'll be thinking about "Troilus and Cressida" for hours after you exit the theater.
    — Roberta Kent
    "Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella": What would happen if Euripides, Shakespeare and Rodgers and Hammerstein all met on a single stage? It's a question OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch answers with the experimental play "Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella." The result, though a bit confusing at times, is brilliantly imaginative and definitely unforgettable.
    "M/M/C" is a roiling witches' cauldron, bubbling over with ambition, love, hatred, transformation and, of course, magic. In it, the three famous stories with their iconic characters are performed onstage simultaneously. Think three-ring circus, but with a big budget, beautiful costumes and a strong musical score. Yes, it's a musical, too.
    While the show sounds strange and confusing, it somehow works. For the most part, the tight staging keeps each story in its own space, but dialogue occasionally overlaps and main characters from one story will appear as extras in the other stories, such as when the chorus of Medea takes a momentary break to sing and dance in a musical number from "Cinderella," or when Cinderella and her stepsisters attend Macbeth's banquet and politely ignore his raving. Even then, the story lines don't intersect. Cinderella does not get marriage advice from Medea, and Macbeth doesn't chat with the wicked stepsisters.
    Still, dialogue from one play often informs the other, and that is fascinating. Each character desires a higher position in life, they are all passionate about someone and they all turn to magic for help in achieving their goals. There are some funny parts in the show and often some surprisingly poignant moments, such as when Cinderella on her way to marrying the prince seems to actually see Medea, whose husband has humiliated her and left her for another woman.
    The entire play requires a fairly high degree of multitasking from the audience, a little work to go with your theater experience, and it is a bit too long. For some, this is great fun. Theater is flexible, and flexing theater muscles can feel good. But others may find the experience overwhelming.
    If you are a playgoer who wants a linear theater experience, or who is expecting a comedic romp, then be prepared for a surprise, but see it anyway. Miriam A. Laube's Medea is warmly human, Christopher Liam Moore is fantastic as the complicated Lady Macbeth, showing clearly her frustration at the limitations placed on her as a woman, while Laura Griffith is a sweetly strong Cinderella.
    — Angela Decker
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