Monday, September 29, 2014

OSF: Two Gents, Tempest

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival produced The Tempest and Two Gentlemen of Verona this year and they were....ok. But we've noticed a bit of a trend. Of the four Shakespeare plays each year (and OSF is dropping down to three next year), one or maybe two of them is great, and the others are just....ok. One shines and the others fizzle. How can that be? Are they economizing with some of the Willy shows on preparing, thinking, creating, and rehearsing time? They wouldn't do that....would they??? Or is it just one of those things?

Dennis Arndt in OSF's The Tempest.
We wouldn't have missed The Tempest, directed by Tony Taccone, out of gratitude to Dennis Arndt for many years of great performances in Seattle (he's an OSF alumnus, but this is our first time seeing him in Ashland). He brought a sensitivity and totally believable pathos to the role of Prospero. However, the production did him no favors. The casual, conversational approach to speaking Shakespeare's lines might have worked well in the black box Thomas Theatre, but didn't quite carry in the Bowmer. 

And nothing about the set helped him out. It started out promising enough, with a dramatic and beautifully set tempest scene. I liked the idea to create an expansive, abstract landscape, and it was a lovely shape, curved up at one corner to be a hill or what have you, and clever traps throughout. But once the clouds and waves magically rolled away, we were left colored shag carpeting. It didn't exactly transport me, at least not anywhere I wanted to be, and it made the actors seem small. 

The costumes were goofy and sometimes distracting. For example, the magic robe of rope for Prospero seemed to distract him, and us. I was especially annoyed that the Incredible Hulk green-yellow powder (what is that foul stuff??) distracted from an energetic and compelling performance by Wayne T. Carr as Caliban. And while I love meta humor as much as anyone, nods to other work (like Angels in America) seemed out of place in this show.

We saw Two Gents outside in the Elizabethan Theatre, directed by Sarah Rasmussen and cast with all women, and as I mentioned in my Richard III post, the ladies did not entirely nail it. Some of the actors couldn't make themselves clear even with the amplification, and several potentially dramatic moments were swallowed. The Weisenheimer's comment was that the whole production was "beige."

Christiana Clark as Proteus and Sofia Jean Gomez as Valentine
in OSF's Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Here are some highlights, though: Erica Sullivan, supremely skilled and talented, as Julia. Judith-Marie Bergan as Lucetta. Vilma Silva as Antonio. And the whole all-women endeavor was worth it to give K.T. Vogt some meaty stage time as both Launce and the Duke. She has been fantastic in everything we have seen her do here. Kjerstine Rose Anderson also brought the funny as Speed. But, man, Vogt and Anderson had to sweat bullets for every laugh. I don't know if our late September Tuesday night audience was especially soporific or what. Even Picasso, playing Crab, seemed to be half asleep. I think Vogt and Anderson were putting out 60 watts for every candlepower by everybody else at the Lizzie that night. Ladies, I appreciate your labors.

The thing is, Wooden O's Two Gents this summer in the park, directed by David Quicksall, kicked OSF's ass. As did Seattle Shakespeare's Tempest in 2009 with Michael Winters as Prospero, Hana Lass as Ariel, Kerry Ryan as Trinculo, and Peter Dylan O'Connor as Caliban. It's wonderful that we're able to see Shakespeare done well right here in Seattle by the O, Seattle Shakespeare Company and GreenStage. We still love OSF; they've given us a chance to see plays—Shakespeare, other classics, and new work—that we likely wouldn't have had a chance to see otherwise. But it's just a reminder that OSF is not a gimme, and there's some wonderful work being done by small, local companies, presumably on a fraction of OSF's budget.  


Weisenheimer said...

I wondered why, in the Tempest, they chose to dress Armando DurĂ¡n, playing Sebastian, as a leprechaun. Goofy. Also, GreenStage did a great Tempest, directed my Michael Blum and with Ken Holmes as Prospero, in 2011. Weisenheimer loved it:

Sweetie the Official Scorer said...

oh yeah, I think I'd blocked out the leprechaun costume. (shudders.)