Tuesday, September 28, 2010

OSF: Henry IV, Part One is a delight

After seeing a marvelous production of Henry IV, Part One at Oregon Shakespeare Festival my Sweetie, the official scorer, and I got to wondering why the Bard’s history plays don’t seem to get the play that some of the others do.

Not one of the history plays is in the top 10 most-produced shows at OSF. This year is the 75th anniversary of the festival, and its two most-produced plays are Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice, both of which were produced both this season and in the festival’s first year, 1935. The all-time top 10:
(See a full rundown of the history of OSF productions.)

Prince Hal (John Tufts, top) comforts a
dying Hotspur (Kevin Kenerly) in Oregon
Shakespeare Festival's production of

Henry IV, Part One. Photo: Jenny Graham.
This year marks just the seventh time that OSF has produced Henry IV, Part One. Part of the reason may be that they’ve almost always produced part one, part two, and Henry V in consecutive years in order to tell the full story of Prince Hal. The first time they produced it was in 1950, and they’ve done it about every 10 years since. Perhaps history is too much work for some playgoers. Part of it may be box office, too. A friend who works for the festival says Henry is lagging behind some of the other offerings in ticket sales.

This is a pity, as it is an excellent production, directed by Penny Metropulos and packed with some of Ashland’s top talents.

The story isn’t all that complicated. Prince Hal, slacker son of the king, would rather spend his time at the pub than at court. In the end, though, he steps up his game and helps pops quell the rebellion.

We’re especially excited about John Tufts, who was so great in last year’s Equivocation, played Romeo a couple of years ago, and will, we presume, play Prince Hal again next year in Part Two and in 2012 in Henry V. David Kelly is hilarious as Sir John Falstaff, James Newcomb fiendish as Earl of Worcester, and Kevin Kennerly fantastic as Henry “Hotspur” Percy.

A special tip of the cap, too, to U. Jonathan Toppo, who played Sir Walter Blunt and also was the fight director for the production. This was one of the most physical productions we’ve seen, concluding with several lengthy and realistic swordfights. It’s a wonder nobody gets chopped up! The choreography of these stage fights is meticulous and precise, and the battles were a joy to watch.

Hurry up if you want to see this great production. Henry IV, Part One runs through October 9 at OSF’s Elizabethan Stage. It might be a decade until your next chance.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing from Wooden O

Beatrice and Benedick are two of my favorite characters in all of Shakespeare, and definitely my favorite couple, and it was an absolute treat to see real-life married couple Amy Thone and Hans Altwies in the roles this summer at Wooden O's outdoor production smartly directed by Sheila Daniels. We loved it so much we saw it twice.

Photo: John Ulman
Daniels set the play down in the bayou, with everyone in gauzy white cotton and linen, and traditional foot-stomping music and dancing and singing ably performed by the live musicians and cast. It was hard not to join in!

Daniels took a fresh romp through the play's high-jinks and physical comedy. There were some delightful images as Benedick got tangled up in a line of laundry. And Beatrice became part of the furniture as she "hid," a compromising position which Hero took advantage of to deliver a sound spanking. Benedick wasn't obvious at all hiding beneath an upturned boat.

My only quibble is the decision to eliminate the uncle and replace him with Beatrice in the confrontation scene with Don Pedro and Claudio. While Beatrice is certainly spunky enough to take them on, it doesn't fit with what comes before and after, and I found it jarring.

Otherwise, it was a fresh, hilarious, delightful approach to this timeless comedy, with a uniformly strong cast, anchored by Altwies and Thone. I wonder if the setting was chosen for Altwies; he has a languid, fluid, graceful physicality that made me almost feel the heat and humidity. Thone wrung the most out of every pregnant line and significant look. And their chemistry crackled.

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog a smash hit at Balagan Theatre

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog was a smash hit this summer at Balagan Theatre. A three-week run starting Aug. 20 completely sold out, as did an extended series of late-night performances, including two this weekend that had to be canceled because of illness.

Weisenheimer admits to a growing chasm of cultural literacy. While most everyone about was all ga-ga about the prospect of Dr. Horrible on stage, I had no idea what anybody was talking about. If you were with me in that boat, it turns out the original Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog was created in 2008 as an Internet flick. Joss Whedon, creator of the television version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer among other hits, his brothers Zack and Jed, and actress Maurissa Tancharoen wrote it during the WGA writer's strike. The film starred Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, and Felicia Day. You can find the videos all over the 'net these days.

The Balagan version was directed by Eric Ankrim, who also played the title role. Jake Groshong played Captain Hammer, and Annie Jantzer starred as Penny, their mutual love interest. All three were fabulous, as were the entire cast.

Jake Groshong as Capt. Hammer throttles
Eric Ankrim as Dr. Horrible in Balagan
Theatre's production of
Dr. Horrible's
Sing-Along Blog.
Photo: Tartan Photography.
Despite the fact that the original was an Internet sensation, the Balagan team was able to resist the temptation to go too wild with technology in the play, though the webcam and projection screen were inspired centerpieces to the relatively spare set. They also added some new musical numbers to the show, which those familiar with the originals say are faithful to the style of the online version.

Weisenheimer made a cameo appearance as "the mayor" on the opening night of the run, which was coincidentally my birthday. Fortunately, this had little negative impact on future ticket sales.

If you missed it, don't be too sad. It's likely Balagan will bring it back at a new location soon. Stay tuned to the theater's website or the Dr. H Facebook page for news.

We're back!

Forgive me father, for I have sinned. It has been nearly three months since my last blog post.

Though I must say I have not been swamped with concerned messages from people wondering where I've been.

We've sort of been at the theatre. My Sweetie, the official scorer, and I have seen 37 plays since our last post on July 9. The number is a bit inflated by counting 21 plays at three nights of the 14/48 festival all individually, but that still means we've been out to 19 separate events, including eight this week from where we sit in Ashland at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

What has happened since I last wrote? I've done numerous posts for my Seattle Astronomy Examiner column for Examiner.com. Thank you, loyal readers of same, those few of you out there. Examiner has been going through a site redesign that still has some bugs in it, but a number of annoying things appear to be fixed, including an RSS feed that insisted on digging up old posts from the past and sending you dead URLs for them. Consider subscribing if you're interested in things celestial. I've also been writing a lot for Arches magazine at University of Puget Sound, doing book reviews and the occasional feature article. The Mariners have dropped an additional 11 games in the standings, are now 28 games out of first, will finish with the second-worst record in baseball, and stand an excellent chance of losing 100 games again. Oh, and I discovered a typo in that July 9 post. Corrected. Ten weeks should be sufficient for proofreading.

Theatre highlights:

Seattle Outdoor Theatre Festival. Much Ado About Nothing was a highlight.

Ruined at Intiman Theatre. New executive director Kate Whoriskey brought her acclaimed New York production to Seattle, adding a couple of locals to the cast, and it was a triumph. It was a great start for Whoriskey and gives us hope for Intiman, which we hadn't much liked in the last several years under Bart Sher.

The 14/48 Festival played at Theatre Off Jackson, and was fun as always. One that was particularly memorable was Dorkfest, a play that hit a little too close to home about three dorks getting together to play board games. Brandon Whitehead and Seanjohn Walsh fell into a giggle-loop, ala Harvey Korman and Tim Conway, and couldn't stop laughing. Neither could we.

The Glass Menagerie at Jewel Box Theatre in Poulsbo. Our friend Gary McVey is the board chair for JBT, and we saw a delightful show in their marvelous theater.

Charles Leggett and R. Hamilton Wright were great in Yankee Tavern at ACT. The show full of 9/11 conspiracy theories was engaging, and those two are treasures.

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog was a smash hit at Balagan Theatre, selling out all performances, and some late-night shows during an extension. Balagan is being booted from its noodle-house-basement space, but look for the theatre, and Dr. Horrible, to surface again very soon.

Reviews of OSF plays should be posted by Thanksgiving on a blog near you.