Last weekend, I went on a road trip to Ashland, Oregon with my dad for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Ashland is this little town juuuust north of the California-Oregon border. It’s nestled in a mountain valley, and is the kind of place that smells of pine trees, and as one motel put it, “toasty fires.” Its inhabitants are friendly, quirky, and best of all, theatre lovers. The house manager at one of the theatres told us they’d been doing the festival for 76 years, and it shows. Everything in the town is somehow associated with the festival, which runs February through November (and is really more of a regular old season than a festival). Our waitress at the (DELICIOUS) brunch we had Sunday morning was actually an understudy for the play we were seeing that afternoon! We saw two really wonderful productions, and had a lovely weekend away from it all.
Road tripping with my dad was so fun. We have always gone on trips together, from touring East Coast colleges, to the time he came with me all the way to Mumbai. Now that I’m older, and can drive, I can take on more responsibility. He even let me pick the hotel. I adore both of my parents, but it was nice to just do a little daddy daughter weekend. (I do have a date with my mama coming up soon, to see Leslie Uggams perform, and I’m sure there are many mani pedis in our future 🙂 )
Now for the plays. The festival hosts a lot of Shakespeare but also some great modern plays. We figured that since it was our first time there, we’d take it old school with a Bard-worthy weekend.
The Tempest, Angus Bowmer Theatre, Ashland, OR; Dir. Tony Taccone
This production was everything you want in a Shakespeare romance. There was humor, dramatic and thrilling stagecraft, and refreshing performances. Kate Hurster’s portrayal of Ariel was particularly lovely, sprightly and poignant and funny. The show incorporated movement seamlessly, beginning the show with statuesque white-painted men (presumably Ariel’s minions) slowly beginning to move, and thus, seduce us into their world. Prospero (Denis Arndt) was equal parts sass and terrifying, and there were parts of the play revealed through this production that I had never realized were humorous or meaningful. The Tepmpest was the final production I was a part of at Columbia (I was a sprite/the publicity manager) and it was so fun and bizarre to see a completely different rendition of it.
Comedy of Errors, Thomas Theatre, Ashland, OR; Dir. Kent Gash
I loved this one. Re-set in the Harlem Renaissance, this staging of the classic mistaken identity comedy featured vibrant set design, music, dancing, and a nearly all black cast. It’s so important to re-frame Shakespeare in different ways, because it is a living, breathing text that deserves to be used to its full potential. The show is inherently funny, but was made more so by the on-point specificity and physical comedy of the actors. It’s the kind of screwball comedy that you don’t see that often, but that is still one of the most entertaining forms of theatre. The outsized characters, the colorful costumes, the embodiment of the joy of the Jazz Age, made it a very fun 90 minutes.
I definitely want to go back to Ashland next year. Hopefully I can go during the summer, for a little longer, so I can see more of their great work. It’s a beautiful thing to see people committed to both representation and really fresh, high-quality theatre. The Ashland-ites (Ashlanders? Ashlandees?) are my type of folks.
Love and theatre,