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.

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