Wednesday, October 31, 2012

OSF: Animal Crackers

I generally think it's not a good idea to try to out-do the legends. As great as Steve Martin is, Peter Sellers is Clouseau, and I refused to see Martin's remake of The Pink Panther. The Gus Van Sant remake of and the Richard Franklin sequel to Psycho both seemed like bad ideas. Did Hitchcock goof up? Heck, I wouldn't even go see the 2003 version of The In-Laws. What, you're going to do it better than Peter Falk and Alan Arkin? Serpentine, Shel! What's next? Keanu Reeves as Charles Foster Kane?

Now, I recognize that aversion to remakes is a little funny for someone who goes to the Shakespeare Festival every year! After all, the Bard only did 37 plays (more or less) and, barring any amazing discoveries in London attics, there won't be any more. So all of the Shakespeare shows are remakes. We've already seen four or five of them more than once just in the eight year's we've been attending. I'm glad people still do Hamlet even though Olivier played the Dane pretty well. Next year OSF is doing A Streetcar Named Desire, and I don't mind seeing another production, (though I pity the poor fools who have to play Stanley with Marlon Brando peeking over their shoulders.)

Anyway, I had mixed feelings when I heard that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was going to produce the Marx Brothers classic Animal Crackers this year. On the one hand, you probably shouldn't mess with Groucho. On the other, the Captain Spaulding role was played by Mark Bedard, one of the flat-out funniest actors among the OSF regulars. On the third hand, the production wasn't really a remake; according to the Playbill it was "reconceived from an adaptation" by Henry Wishcamper.

The show, directed by Allison Narver, did not disappoint. Bedard was fantastic as Groucho, nailing the voice and the look and the walk. He had a bunch of good Groucho gags, but also was nimble in playing off of the audience and ad-libbing. K.T. Vogt, who was hilarious last year in The Imaginary Invalid, was a scream as Mrs. Rittenhouse; Jonathan Haugen was marvelous as both the butler Hives and the art-loving Roscoe W. Chandler.

Two performances came as delightful surprises. John Tufts and Brent Hinkley were featured on the cover of the Playbill in a scene from Henry V. The next night they turned up as Ravelli and The Professor—the Chico and Harpo characters—in Animal Crackers. And talk about trying to out-do a legend! While Groucho was a genius, he's been aped by many an actor. Hinkley did an amazing job taking up the horn of Harpo, who for my money was the most brilliant actor of the brothers, without uttering a word.

Animal Crackers was a lot of fun, and a great exclamation point on our annual trip to OSF. Alas, there are just three performances left; Animal Crackers wraps on Nov. 4. It's playing in the Angus Bowmer Theatre in Ashland.

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