Thursday, October 4, 2012

OSF: Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella

When I was in college, my boyfriend and I had a date to go to a faculty piano recital. When we told my father where we were going (expecting to impress him for being so grown up and "cultured"), he said "meh" (or whatever the then-equivalent was), to our surprise. He dismissed the recital saying we weren't going to hear anything beautiful, and that it was just going to be artists working out their own technical studies and pet projects and trying to impress each other.

He was right. We left at intermission.
L-R: Miriam A. Laube as Medea, Laura
Griffith as Cinderella, and Jeffrey King as
Macbeth. OSF photo by Jenny Graham.

Which brings us to Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella (MMC). This is a project of Oregon Shakespeare Festival artistic director Bill Rauch's that he's been working on and thinking about and staging occasionally since college. It's three productions of three discrete plays staged in an elaborate cut-and-paste ping-pong mash-up of scenes. Think three of your favorite movies playing in split screen at the same time with someone else constantly pushing pause and play and flipping between full screen and split. Yeah. Pretty fucking annoying.

Look, we get it. We really do. The insights, counterpoints, rhythms, and themes (hey look! all three plays have kings in them! look! children are discarded in all three plays! look! women are disappointed by men! look! sisters!); the gender and identity stuff; the homage to theater and its forms, especially "populist" theater (whatever); the challenge to the audience to listen and choose; all of that. We do get it. We got it in the first 20 minutes. (The play lasted 180.)

I don't mind being challenged at the theater, intellectually and emotionally. Indeed, I love it. I'm not just looking for "entertainment" as the word is used when accompanied by a sneer. But I do expect art.

Juxtaposition isn't art.

You have to make something with your materials. I can talk to people whose families taught them to make paella and I can source a lot of really fresh, seasonal, top-notch ingredients and I can carefully season my pan and I can lay out three different recipes for paella side-by-side and maybe do a blog post and a video about what I've learned, all of which may prepare me to come up with inspiring and fascinating possibilities for my very own creative interpretation of paella. But until I cook it up in a pan, it's not good to eat. 

You can put a man and a woman right next to each other but unless they make love, they aren't going to make a baby. Unless they use fertility technology, which sounds like about as much fun as MMC (test tube theater). 

You get the idea.

Nothing was created here. It was smart, clever (too clever by half), technically complicated and brilliantly executed. I can imagine that it was stimulating for the artists involved. But in the end, it was just an intellectual exercise, a technical study, an academic endeavor, produced on a very grand scale. No story was told, no characters were created or developed, and whatever was lovely or moving about it came from the individual plays and the valiant performances of actors trying to act while someone else on stage from a whole different play was talking. (Or singing. Ugh.) 

(For an example of a play that does create something while imaginatively placing canonical plays and characters in new situations, we thoroughly enjoyed The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler, directed by Bill Rauch here at OSF in 2008.)

The pity is that we think there were a couple of really fine productions buried in MMC. I would love to see Madea staged. Jeffrey King and Christopher Liam Moore were amazing as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, respectively. Please stage that Macbeth. And while I don't have much interest in Cinderella, I'm looking forward to seeing much more of the actor who played her, Laura Griffith, and godmother K. T. Vogt later this week in Animal Crackers.

But here's my final word: I'm willing to have a clunker now and again (not too often...these tickets are expensive) if it means we also get plays like Party People and The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler and Equivocation. Rauch is bringing OSF into the 21st century and clearly attempting to broaden its audience, and taking some risks to do so. And if this kind of exploration and study and experimentation helps Rauch and all the other artists involved do what they do so well (most of the time), then I'm all for it. But it's kind of like sausage-making. I just don't want to watch it.

MMC plays in the Angus Bowmer Theater at OSF through Nov. 4.

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