Monday, September 21, 2009

OSF: Don Quixote (STOS)

Don Quixote is the finale of our stay at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and it—and in fact the whole week—bodes well for better and better theater from OSF. This adaptation by Octavio Solis and directed by Laird Williamson is a highly irreverent, gut-busting, and sweetly touching play. The set, props, entire cast, and especially Armando Duran’s stalwart and sensitive performance in the title role manage to convey the disorder of Don Alonso’s mind and the yearnings of his heart with compassion. You’ll want to hug Don Quixote—and run away from him. Because this production also does not shy from the ridiculous. It revels in it.

I can’t think of another play here that has generated such belly laughs from the audience—reactions I wish we got for Shakespeare’s bawdiness if only people wouldn’t take it so damn seriously. Apparently fart jokes will do the trick. The serving wench also does the trick. And the costume department continues to redeem itself on this trip, this time with clever contraptions that facilitate mooning the audience. Duran and Josiah Phillips are a brilliant comedy duo, foils and instigators of all sorts of hilarity.

One of the joys of this performance was the outstanding puppetry. This is a theater art that we don’t see enough of, and it was perfect for conveying the illusions of reality and mania. Puppetry arts were in evidence for the enchanter of Don Alonso’s mind, wobbly geese, a two-part Rocinante, a tricycle Dapple, sock sheep (a new kind of sock puppet!), and especially an exquisitely made and performed Dulcinea, the object of Don Quixote’s chivalry. Puppet designer Lynn Jeffries worked with Bill Rauch at Cornerstone Theater Company, where she was a founding member, and we’re glad to see her work here.

Another special mention goes to actor Howie Seago in his first year with the company. I first noticed him in Henry VIII without hearing a line from him because of his stage presence. One of the marks of a really fine stage actor is knowing how to "be" on stage when not the focus of the dialogue and action. He clearly had this quality. Then came a touching scene, beautiful as a dance, between him as attendant Griffith and Vilma Silva as the dying Queen, where they communicated in sign language. ASL is such a beautiful language and they made it visual poetry. In Don Quixote, Seago played ensemble roles and was equally sensitive and just plain funny. Kudos to OSF for hiring a deaf actor and creatively incorporating ASL into productions. We hope Seago comes back for many years to come.

We were speaking this morning with Elizabeth, the lovely hostess of the Terra Cottage Inn, who had warned us that she’d heard mixed reviews of Don Quixote over the summer from guests. When we told her there were fart jokes, it cleared the air. She recognized the folks who didn’t like it as serious types. Methinks that under Bill Rauch’s artistic leadership OSF is taking itself a wee bit less seriously. They’ll get no raspberries from me for that, only applause.

No comments: