Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Othello coming to Intiman

The Seattle Times reports today that Intiman has added William Shakespeare's Othello to its 2009 season lineup, and that artistic director Bart Sher will direct. In addition, Misha Berson writes that Sher will spread himself ever thinner, taking on the role of resident director of the Lincoln Center Theatre in New York, where he's staged productions of Light in the Piazza and South Pacific recently.

'Twas a time a production of Othello would have been welcome news. But we've decided that the Moor's story isn't exactly among our favorites among Shakespeare's oeuvre, and frankly Weisenheimer is awfully tired of Sher. We love the Bard, and Sher started out his reign at Intiman with a bang, giving us solid productions of seldom-performed Shakespeare plays, Cymbeline in 2001 and Titus Andronicus in 2002. Sher also has directed other good shows, including Arms and the Man in 2002, Three Sisters in 2005, and Uncle Vanya in 2007.

But things also started going askew at Intiman in 2002, with horrible productions of Nickel & Dimed and Scapin, followed in '03 by the criminally overrated Light in the Piazza and the dismal 21 Dog Years. It was after the lackluster 2003 season that Weisenheimer dropped our subscription to Intiman, which had been an annual Christmas present to my Sweetie, the scorer, for a dozen years, way back to our courtin' days. The final straw that broke our opinion of Sher beyond repair was his utterly botched Richard III in 2006. It didn't help that we'd seen Richard at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2005, and Weisenheimer still rates this as best theater production ever.

Vanya was good last year, and this year's A Streetcar Named Desire -- not directed by Sher -- was excellent, especially Angela Pierce as Blanche. But mostly we're just not all that interested in what Intiman is doing these days, the crazed hype about Piazza and inexplicable "regional" Tony awards notwithstanding. We move that Sher spend even more time in New York.

Where is Warner Shook when you need him?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Joan Osborne rocks

I’m not exactly sure why Joan Osborne isn’t selling out big arena shows or moderately sized theaters like the Paramount instead of 300-seat venues such as Seattle’s Triple Door. Osborne certainly has more talent in her thumb than any six standard-issue pop divas can muster up combined. Weisenheimer is thankful, however, for the shows in a more intimate club. At Madison Square Garden my sweetie and I probably would not have scored a front-row table about six feet from the great singer-songwriter’s left ankle as we did at Osborne’s appearance in town Monday night, part of a tour in support of her new album Little Wild One.

My only criticism of Osborne’s set, the second of two on the evening at the Triple Door, is that she saved the best for first. The opening number was a sultry, full-blues cover of “How Sweet it Is” that would have melted James Taylor’s guitar strings. Forget about Marvin Gaye and Sweet Baby James, this is now Osborne’s song, the title track of her 2002 album. Stealing from Marvin isn’t easy.

Osborne’s original material is top-notch. She played her smash hit “One of Us” as well as “Ladder,” both from her Grammy-nominated 1995 album Relish. But Weisenheimer says she’s at her absolute best singing the blues and covering funk hits. Her version of “Let’s Just Kiss,” the Manhattans’ chart-topper also recorded by Barry White and many others, was marvelous, as was “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?”, one of the tunes she sang in the 2002 film Standing in the Shadows of Motown, a documentary about the label’s incredible in-house band, the Funk Brothers.

Osborne’s band is top-notch, too. Andrew Carillo, a vaguely Neil Young-looking character, played guitar; Richard Hammond was on bass, Aaron Comess drums; and Keith Cotton keyboards. Osborne and the guys closed their set with an encore, the Grateful Dead’s “Brokedown Palace.” Osborne toured with the surviving members of the band, billed as The Dead (apparently they just aren't grateful without Jerry Garcia), in 2003. A version of “Palace” is on her 2006 disc Pretty Little Stranger.

Singer Matt Morris opened the show, and also did a duet with Osborne during her set, on “Cathedrals,” a track from the new disc. Weisenheimer liked Morris’ slow blues version of the Beatles’ “Help!” My sweetie was having none of that.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Shakespeare in stir

Hot on the heels of this week's piece in The Stranger suggesting a five-year moratorium on productions of Shakespeare comes a piece in the East Oregonian out of Pendleton about an interesting take on Hamlet -- performed by inmates at a state correctional facility.

The Seattle Times ran the article in its Sunday editions.

Next season the prisoners will be doing Escape from Alcatraz. It's probably not a good idea for them to do more "cutting edge" material....

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Ban the Bard?

To a Weisenheimer just returned from a week at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, it's interesting to read that theater companies need to declare a five-year moratorium on performances of Shakespeare in order to survive. That's part of the advice Brendan Kiley of The Stranger offers in his article "Ten Things Theaters Need to do Right Now to Save Themselves."

While Kiley serves up his advice "in no particular order" his points are numbered, and number one, in big bold letters, is "Enough with the goddamned Shakespeare already." Gladly, Kiley calls the Bard "the greatest playwright in history" but then goes on to write that Shakespeare has, for theater companies, "become your enabler and your crutch, the man you call when you're timid and out of ideas."

In a way, he has a point. Theater producers must know that there's a certain guaranteed audience in Shakespeare. Weisenheimer loves the Bard and is delighted to find him on the schedule. We go to as many Shakespeare productions as we can. But I don't agree with Kiley's contention that staging Shakespeare is a signal of a lack of imagination and the end of creativity. This can be the case. Intiman's 2006 production of Richard III was a total dud. But there's plenty of room for new ideas in Shakespeare productions. One can re-think the most often- produced plays, or tackle those that are rarely seen. Coriolanus was a pleasant surprise at OSF this year.

There's a lot to like in the rest of Kiley's list. While we're not on board with his notion of busting up the unions, we're certainly open to new material. But we love the classics, too. As for getting younger people into the seats, it's not just about the new; the school groups at Ashland this year seemed most impressed by OSF's marvelous production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

It's a bad idea for theater companies to ban the Bard. The next suggestion would be for chamber music companies to get over their fawning reliance on Mozart. We don't just want to see Shakespeare, we want to see GOOD Shakespeare. And good theater, whether classic or modern.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Perplexing pepper peculiarities

Weisenheimer has been on the road a lot lately. Since starting this goofy blog in August I've been to such exotic locales as Portland, Eugene, Salem, Vancouver, B.C., Boise, Tri-Cities, Yakima, Ellensburg, Blaine, Ashland, Spokane, and, next up, Chelan. This travel has meant a lot of meals in restaurants, and those meals have solidified in my mind a fact that, as my sweetie will attest, I've been griping about in private for some time now: the people who make pepper and the people who make pepper shakers have never spoken to each other.

You don't really even need to travel to test this. Find a pepper shaker in your house. Put some pepper in it. Shake. What happens? Usually, nothing. I've got one like this. I've been thinking about taking it downstairs to the workbench and drilling bigger holes. But I don't think I should have to do that. (Another thing my sweetie will tell you I always say is, "People should have to use their own products before being allowed to sell them to the public." Stuff should work before you dupe me into buying it.)

The next time you're in a restaurant, having breakfast, try putting some pepper on your hash browns. Good luck. The holes in the shaker are not big enough to let the ground pepper out. Sometimes, if you shake long enough, you can break a bit of the ground pepper into even smaller bits and a little of it will escape. This problem is compounded by the fact that, in many restaurants, the person who is in charge of refilling the shakers packs it in so tight that when you shake the pepper it doesn't move anyway. You only have to fill it up once! The salt people don't seem to have this problem. You can almost always get salt out of the shaker. Pepper is another story.

Let's communicate, people!
I'm offering to serve as the go-between between pepper providers and the shaker makers. I don't know a whit about either business, but I don't need to. Like a diplomat, I just have to get the two sides to the table and shake up the status quo. Get them talking. I imagine the conversation might go something like this:

WSW: Mr. Pepper, why don't you grind up your pepper a little finer so that it can get out of the holes in the shakers?

PEP: Well, at present we grind the pepper into chunks 12.7 microns square. To grind it to, say, 10 microns would add several minutes to each batch at an additional cost of 1.3 cents per hundred pounds of pepper. Our margin is tiny. We couldn't afford that. Out competitors, who grind their pepper into even larger bits, would undercut us. It would be a better solution for the shaker folks to make the holes bigger.

WSW: What about that, Mr. Shaker? Can you make the holes in the shakers a bit bigger?

SHAK: Our plant is outfitted with 147,348 drill bits that each drill a hole 11 microns in diameter. It would cost us tens of millions of dollars to replace all of those with 13 micron bits. Our research shows that a shaker top with 11-micron holes arranged in offset polygon shapes gives the most efficient distribution of the shaken material is has an elegant, pleasing design.

As you can see, these issues are difficult, but not insurmountable. I'm hoping that, by 2015, we can have available to actual consumers pepper shakers that will actually distribute pepper. Imagine having such a thing on every dining table, public and private, all across America and, indeed, the world. Otherwise, shaker makers and pepper providers, we'll all just go to grinding our own.

Call me.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Have to do with where choo-choo go

Weisenheimer has been in Spokane on business for a couple of days, and while flipping through the channels on the TV in the hotel room came across an advertisement for Rock Ridge Town Homes.

Now, I'm no business person, but I think if I were a real estate mogul I would NOT name my housing development Rock Ridge.

Oh, sure, the name itself is pleasant enough. It brings to mind images of serenity, a place that's probably a peaceful town where people live in harmony and never had no kind of trouble. A place that bore not a hint of misery, where the town saloon was always lively, not nasty or obscene.

Yet, would you buy a place there, knowing that Slim Pickens was going to send in a pack of murderers and thieves, perhaps even Mongo, in order to create havoc and make the townfolk flee? No, neither would I.

That is, unless I knew Sheriff Bart was on duty. What is your limit on Schnitzengruben?

Monday, October 6, 2008

OSF: Othello

I am not among those who find great possibilities of interpretation in Othello. It seems pretty straightforward to me. And with me in the audience the actors playing Othello and Desdemona are burdened with a lot of unfortunate cliches and associations, which is neither their fault nor fair. But there it is. For instance, I can never read or see the play without thinking of the exquisite performance turned in by Derek McGrath and Shelley Long in Homicidal Ham. Our Othello last night played his "fits" with a twitchy right arm with a mind of its own that he would clamp down on with the other hand, putting me in mind of Dr. Strangelove. So I will suppress my giggles and leave it to others to sing the praises of Peter Macon as Othello and Sarah Rutan as Desdemona.

However, I find Iago and Emilia as fascinating as I find Othello and Desdemona uninteresting, and Dan Donohue and Vilma Silva did not disappoint. Iago is Shakespeare's best villain and Donohue continually danced right up to the line of making us think there might be some real, human, redeeming, if twisted feeling inside him, before showing us again that he is an inveterate fiend. Donohue was the perfect blend of believably likeable, a little creepy, and wholly malevolent.

Emilia is the truth teller in this tragedy. In a play full of deceipt and delusion (Desdemona's romantic conceit, Othello's self delusion, Iago's malicious deceit) she alone has a genuine capacity for self-awareness and grasp of consequences, which is saying something in a play where, as my sweetie the Weisenheimer said, everyone is talking about themselves to themselves but no one's talking to each other. Silva's Emilia is the ballast that gives the final acts heft and direction. Silva makes acting look effortless and is searingly intense. Between this season and last we saw her turn in three fully embodied performances of three very different women (Emilia, Katherina in Taming of the Shrew, and Beatrice in A View from the Bridge), and she was riveting in each.

But I'm told I can't log a review of Othello without commenting on, well, Othello. So here it is. I think Peter Macon is a fine actor playing a very difficult part on a challenging stage. I think in that situation actors can fall back on virtuosity. Which may impress, but does not necessarily move. But the way his bald head was steaming in the 45 degree night-time air was super cool.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival produced Othello this year on the outdoor Lizzy on a spare and gorgeously lit set. Here at OSF the set, props, and costumes may or may not have anything to do with each other or the time and place in which the play is set, but they will always be magnificent. In this production, they mostly don't relate. The minimalist, gray, and dramatically lit set suggests a modern setting, but really you are free to think of the play in any time and place where the women wore long full skirts and the men high-waisted breeches with suspenders and fancy Burberry overcoats. And the musicians wandering around sometimes playing and sometimes lip-syncing (you know what I mean) to a recorded track made no sense. Generally our directors at OSF do a fine job of, well, dramatizing all that text, but there were moments where the actors seemed at loose ends.

So while I'm not catching director Lisa Peterson's vision for the context of the characters and action, I do, however, like to think she understood who this play is really about, with a stunningly staged ending. A bloody Iago staggers to his feet, turns away from the "tragic loading of this bed," and center stage takes one halting lurch toward the audience with a look of complete unrepentant malevolence on his face, and midstep there is sudden blackout.

The protocol at OSF is for the entire company to assemble and take their bows together, with the stars noted only in their placement among the assembly. This is one of those times when I missed the opportunity to acknowledge the actors individually and recognize, as Iago and Emilia are the muscle of the play, Donohue and Silva are the stars of the show.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

OSF: A Midsummer Night's Dream

There was more energy in the audience, perhaps by a factor of 10, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of A Midsummer Night's Dream than I recall at any play I've ever attended. Perhaps this was because the crowd included a fair number of teenagers visiting the festival with school groups, and many of them were driven over the edge with giddiness at the sight of leather-and-tutu clad fairies, young lovers prancing around the forest at night in skimpy nighties or underwear, and, curiously, at every appearance of a green-and-orange "flower power" VW microbus. With all the squealing one expected the Beatles or Elvis had entered the building. Add to this a modernistic neon and steel "forest" with pounding techno-pop, disco, and rap that brought to mind "Sprockets" and you had all of the elements for a rocking good time.

A Midsummer Night's Dream delivered. It wasn't a setting that really encouraged great "acting," but the cast had plenty of chances to ham it up and an enormous amount of fun in doing it.

The story is familiar. Lysander and Demetrius both have the hots for Hermia, though Demetrius seems ready to ditch Helena for her. Weisenheimer thinks Demetrius is nuts, as Kjerstine Anderson is a hot redhead who plays Helena with great joy, though she looks a bit silly running around with just one stocking for much of the play. (She has her jammies on, too, you perverts!) Puck and the boys cast spells that don't always work as intended, and a night of mayhem ensues.

Though they're on the outs for much of the play, Oberon and Titania, king and queen of the faries played by Keven Kenerly and Christine Albright, make a smokin' couple. Kenerly as Oberon is featured on the season poster for OSF this year, though my Sweetie says his costume is "goofy." Kenerly has played an interesting range of characters in recent years, from Oberon to Citizen Barlow in last year's Gem of the Ocean to Algernon Moncreif in The Importance of Being Earnest a couple of years back. It was good to see Albright alive and well. We'd seen her play Juliet in a downpour on the outdoor stage late last season, and feared she may have contracted pneumonia.

Director Mark Rucker missed one chance for a great laugh. Whenever the VW microbus rolled onto the stage -- and it was a real, full-sized one -- they should have had smoke pour out every time the doors opened. Maybe when I get to direct that will happen. The bus carried a bunch of hippies who performed their play, Pyramus and Thisbe, at the end, when order was restored and the duke married Hypployta, Hermia married Lysander, and Demetrius tied the knot with Helena. We think. It could all be a dream.

OSF: The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler

In The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler playwright Jeff Whitty (an aptronym) has created a bizarre world in which fictional characters reside. They live on so long as people still think of their characters. When they don't, the characters pass away.

Hedda Gabler decides she doesn't like this arrangement. Gabler, the title character of Henrik Ibsen's 1890 play, commits suicide in that script because of the purposelessness of life. In the world of Further Adventures, characters stay in character. Living on the Cul de Sac of Tragic Women, Hedda is perpetually depressed and keeps killing herself. It doesn't help that her enabling husband, Tesman, keeps handing her the gun. He realizes nobody want to see a play about him, and if Hedda changes, POOF, he's gone. Their neighbor, Medea, can't stop murdering her children. Promotional material for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production asks, "Does she need a bigger gun or a better author?" Hedda opts for change, and sets out to become a happy, well-adjusted woman.

This change isn't so easy as one would hope. To do it, Hedda has to cross the dark forest and get to the furnace of creation, from whence all characters emerge. Some last only a few minutes, others endure for centuries. For the journey, Hedda is accompanied by her slave, Mammy from Gone With the Wind, who has understandably decided that change would suit her as well.

In a riff on Steven Sondheim's Into the Woods, they encounter a number of other fictional characters along the way, including Dorothy Gale, Icarus, a group of Jesuses (including one battered by Mel Gibson and another from Godspell), Annie, Leatherface (who chases down Annie with a chain saw when she starts singing "Tomorrow"), and an investigator from C.S.I. who is interruped by a hand lotion ad (TV characters come with commercials).

Most importantly, they encounter Patrick and Steven, a couple of aging, prancing, boozing, self-loathing queens who dispense a great deal of the wisdom and comedy in the play. (Weisenheimer didn't recognize them, but found several other reviewers who felt they were based on characters from The Boys in the Band.)

After a perilous journey (that included Patrick, Steven, Mammy, and Tesman enjoying cocktails while rowing across the lake in a boat called The African Queen) everyone gets to the furnace of creation. Hedda gets into the mind of Ibsen, who makes her happy, and Mammy emerges as a jazz diva. Steven and Patrick don't change, however. They did manage to get into the mind of their creator, but "there was an open bar."

Change turns out to be bad. While Hedda and Mammy are happy, they're no longer memorable and begin to fade away. In the end, they go back to the old routine, continuing their suffering so that maybe, just maybe, their audiences can learn something.

Robin Goodrin Nordli is marvelous as Hedda, reprising the character she played in OSF's production of the Ibsen play in 2003. Nordli has played a number of great roles, including Margaret in Richard III in 2005, Weisenheimer's favorite production ever, and Roxane in Cyrano de Bergerac, which we voted best of festival in 2006. Kimberly Scott was amazing as Mammy. All of the performances were super, really, but special kudos to Anthony Heald and Jonathan Haugen who played Patrick and Steven respecitvely and hilariously.

The play includes one great inside joke. In an early scene, the utterly depressed Hedda emerges drinking her morning coffee from a smiley face mug. My Sweetie, though typically much happier than Hedda, can be a bit grumpy in the a.m. before she gets her java fix, and also has one of those smiley mugs. When I saw Hedda with hers I had to laugh like hell!

The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler premiered at the South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, California in 2006 and it was directed there by Bill Rauch, who also directs the OSF production, and directed it's production of Hedda Gabler in 2003. Further Adventures is a marvelous, smart, fun show. It runs through the end of October. Catch it if you can.

Friday, October 3, 2008

OSF: The Clay Cart

The 2008 season is the first for Bill Rauch as artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and The Clay Cart, a 2,000-year-old play from India by Sudraka, is Rauch's gift and challenge to his audiences.

While The Clay Cart is not Shakespeare, it does use many of the Bard's familiar devices: mistaken identity, class struggle, incompetent officialdom, sex, gambling, bungled tasks, religion, more sex, and a major character who seems dead but isn't, really. As Sudraka predates Shakespeare by some 1,500 years, one wonders if the Bard got a look at the ancient text and borrowed a few ideas.

This production is a true feast to the eyes. The cast gad about in wispy, veil-like costumes, and they're mostly goodbodies (though a few Weisenheimer-like physiques are thrown in for balance.) Charudatta is an impoverished merchant, but he hangs out in pretty nice digs! The set is opulent, with a circular stage fronted by a collection of golden statues of various Hindu gods. Only one piece seemed out of place: a huge foot in the background that was intended to be the part we could see of a gigantic statue of Brahma. That probably worked for most, but a giant foot always makes Weisenheimer think of Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Charudatta is a stand-up guy but one circumstance after another piles up against him, to the point where his neck is on the chopping block for the murder of Vasantasena, a lovely courtesan who is something of a town treasure. She was not really dead (another Monty Python trigger!), but they waited until the axe was about to swing before Masseur, an indebted gambler turned monk, swooped in at the last second, Vasantasena at his side, to prove both that Charudatta is no murderer and that the king's brother-in-law, Samsthanaka, tried to kill Vasantasena, left her for dead, and tried to frame Charudatta.

Charudatta cashes his good-Karma points at the end to straighten things out, and starts banking Karma for the future by sparing the king's brother-in-law and letting him keep his land. The good guys win in the end. Yay!

Christofer Jean as Charudatta and Miriam A. Laube as Vasantasena were outstanding as the leads. Weisenheimer is taking quite a liking to Laube, though my Sweetie pegs her as a "song and dance actor." There was plenty of space for over-the-top performances in this show, led by Brent Hinkley, who was ridiculously evil and bumbling as the king's brother-in-law (a relationship he felt the need to announce constantly) and the hilariously bad moustache clearly pegged him as someone who would come to no good.

In all, The Clay Cart was a beautiful show with an uplifting message of hope. Everything's going to turn out fine.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hey, Sarah Palin: Thanks for the booze!

This blog is not about politics, but the presidential campaign elbowed its way into Weisenheimer's theater, food, and drink experience today.

My Sweetie and I were enjoying a nice dinner at T's Restaurant + Bar in downtown Ashland, Oregon this evening before heading over for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of The Clay Cart. We'd enjoyed a pretty good meal -- lamb shanks that were quite good accompanied by a mushroom risotto that was fabulous and a pretty nice bottle of red wine, a blend from a local vintner. Part way through dinner some ding-a-ling decided that the real reason were were all there was to listen to the debate between the vice-presidential candidates, Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin. Being on vacation, I've been able to mostly avoid media stuff all week, but most of the customers and much of the staff -- it wasn't very busy on a rainy Thursday night -- seemed quite interested. We were working on dessert -- a cheese sampler plus after-dinner drinks -- and Weisenheimer was contemplating asking them to turn off the damn TV, when the bartender dropped by with a couple of items we hadn't ordered.

"You guys were here when we made the deal," he said. "It's a free shot of tequila on the house every time Palin calls McCain a maverick."

Cue up The Champs!

We did make it to the play on time. My review, for obvious reasons, will have to wait until tomorrow.

OSF: A Comedy of Errors

Weisenheimer and his sweetie took the backstage tour at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival the morning before seeing the festival's production of The Comedy of Errors. Looking at the nearly completed set our tour guide said, "With all of those stairs, you know it's going to be a comedy. Chase scenes are guaranteed." It's not often that a gigantic noose suspended from a 20-foot frame is the focal point of the staging of a comedy. Maybe they were planning some gallows humor.

Penny Metropulos staged and directed her own adaptation of The Comedy of Errors as a musical western, sort of an Oklahoma-meets-Mel-Brooks-concept. The zany western put Weisenheimer immediately in mind of Blazing Saddles, and there was a nod to Young Frankenstein as well: whenever a character noted that, "It's the law," a horse would neigh in the background. Frau Blucher would have been proud.

The Bard wasn't totally lost in all of of this. You still had two sets of separated-at-birth twins running around constantly being confused one for the other, in no small part because they also have twin names. But the actors looked very much alike and were costumed similarly, making them much more twin-like than we often see when Shakespeare uses this device. And, it seemed most everyone in the cast owed someone else money or was in some sort of trouble with the law. (Neiiiighhhh.)

Still, Metropulos had to bend the Bard quite a bit to fit The Comedy of Errors into "a town west of the Pecos." Several character names were changed. Solinus became Duke, the Sheriff; Angelo the Goldsmith was changed to The Colonel; and The Merchant became a Chinese salesman named Li Wei, making me wonder how much leeway we should give to mess around with the text.

Among all the hilarity Weisenheimer singles out Miriam A. Laube for her performance as Adriana, wife to one of the Antipholuses. On top of being spunky and energetic on stage, Laube can really belt out a tune. She's fast becoming a favorite actress of the company. She was marvelous as Rosalind in As You Like It during the 2007 season here.

While all of this likely made the Shakespeare purists a little grumpy, the show was a great, fun romp and an entertaining evening on a beautiful, pleasant night outdoors at OSF's Elizabethan Stage.

OSF: Coriolanus

Mothers, eh?

Caius Martius may well have borrowed that line from Jeff Murdock of the BBC comedy Coupling when explaining to rival/ally/rival Aufidius why he's calling off his participation in their march on Rome in the closing scene of Coriolanus at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Caius, later named Coriolanus, was born and raised to be a lean, mean, fighting machine. He fights many a heroic battle for Rome, and bears the scars to prove it, but his blunt, aggressive, and brutally honest approach doesn't work so well in the two- and three-timing world of the Senate. His brusque style and open disdain for the "little guy" end up getting him banished from the city, in a move orchestrated by conniving tribunes, rather than elevated to a seat of power.

Tossed from the city, Coriolanus joins forces with former rival Aufidius, and offers to help lead a revenge march and kick butt on the city. They would have done it, too, save for the intervention and manipulation by Coriolanus's mother, Volumnia. She talks him out of the invasion. It was always a bit of an uneasy alliance for Aufidius, but the look of disappointment on his face when Coriolanus finally caves to his mom was priceless. The Volscians cut Coriolanus to pieces; no matter to Volumnia, who still gets good seats at the Circus Maximus.

One wonders why Coriolanus is not performed more often than it is. It touches on themes that are most certainly relevant today: constant war, hunger, poverty, great economic and social inequality, politicians more concerned about their careers than the country. Protesters carry signs in the opening act that refer to "Time for Change" and call for "Need not Greed." Perhaps it is because Coriolanus is something of an anti-hero, and not a subtle one. There's none of the brooding or speechifying of a Hamlet, but rather dogged pursuit of his own consistency and personal ethic.

Danforth Comins plays the lead role with a sneering relish. Particularly memorable is a lengthy and athletic fight scene between Comins and Michael Elich as Aufidius. Robynn Rodriguez is chilling and impressive as Volumnia. Rex Young plays Brutus, one of the tribunes, with particular two-faced zeal.

One also must call out Richard Elmore for his performance as Menenius, a friend of Coriolanus and the one mind in the show working toward a mutually agreeable solution to the problems of all the characters. Unfortunately, for these folks, it appears that to have peace would have left them without honor. Alas. Elmore is a veteran of a quarter century at OSF and played Orgon in Tartuffe, one of our favorites from last season.

The set was fairly spare in OSF's New Theatre. The show was staged in the round, with the only set pieces being a series of manholes though which characters occasionally passed. They'd wheel in podiums when needed for speechifying. The costuming was a little confusing, with the earlier lieutenants wearing garb that said "Nazi" and WWII with long trench coats and such. But later the military folks had modern camo and weaponry, and the politicians used cellular phones and laptop computers.

The show was hit by the first really noticeable technical snafu in four years at the festival. At the start of the second act the house lights didn't go down -- the universal signal for the audience to shut up. This went on for several minutes, it seemed. The audience didn't shut up and Weisenheimer wondered if they might be seeking some dramatic effect. Then ALL of the lights went out. Finally, they seemed to get it under control, save for one bank of house lights that kept flickering. (Lightning? Distant shelling?) When we returned to our Ashland headquarters, it was apparent that power had been out there as well. May have been some sort of area outage that threw them a curve.

OSF: A View from the Bridge

"There's no one better than Arthur Miller for portraying male inadequacy. But at least he kills them in the end."

So said my Sweetie as we walked back to our Ashland headquarters after seeing Miller's A View from the Bridge, the first play of our week at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. And I knew I had my lead. Or "lede," as the cool kids are spelling it these days.

A View from the Bridge is set in 1955 in the Brooklyn tenement home of longshoreman Eddie Carbone, his wife Beatrice, and their teenaged niece Catherine. Eddie has it pretty good at the start, but things are about to go south.

In the beginning he reluctantly agrees to let Catherine take a job as a stenographer, about which she's excited because it might lead to a gig as a secretary some day. And, that night they're expecting boarders, Beatrice's cousins, a couple of "submarines" -- illegal immigrants from Italy -- who will hole up at their place while they scramble for work on the docks.

Marco, the elder cousin, sends cash back to his family in Sicily. Rodolpho, the younger cousin, is single, and spends his money on clothes, records, and Catherine. This rocks Eddie's world, and when Rodolpho and Catherine announce plans to marry he goes off the deep end.

In the riveting confrontation scene, Eddie plants big kisses on both Catherine and Rodolpho (the latter causing much tittering among the teenagers in the audience with their school groups) revealing that he desires them both. They're young, they're hot, and they have better lives ahead.

In the end Eddie calls immigration officers to come in, bust, and deport his wife's cousins. This makes him persona non grata in the neighborhood, and he spends the rest of the play fretting about getting his good name back. Before he's deported, Marco fights with Eddie and kills him.

Armando Durán is fabulous as Eddie Carbone, full of swagger and bravado and insecurity. The show has been running since July 23 and goes through Nov. 1. It must be tough playing such a role. One could get into a good villain with relish, but Eddie is just a schmuck. We've seen Durán in a few other shows in previous seasons at OSF.

Also worthy of note is the performance of Stephanie Beatriz as Catherine. She was spot-on, and had great on-stage chemistry with Juan Rivera LeBron, who played Rodolpho. Tony DeBruno played the lawyer, Mr. Alfieri, who also served as narrator and occasional counsel to the characters. Sadly, his advice to Eddie, "Let it go," went unheeded.