The Unfortunates is a world premiere, created by Jon Beavers, Ramiz Monsef, Ian Merrigan, and Casey Hurt; additional material by Kristoffer Diaz. Directed by Shana Cooper.
A review by Angela Allen
The Unfortunates: Edgy or over the Edge?
Full disclosure: I love edgy theater. Not that OSF doesn’t do Neil Simon or August Wilson up right, or even Shakespeare in period dress, but I prefer the small-theater, risk-prone productions.
So The Unfortunates, playing at the newly named Thomas Theatre, wasn’t a huge stretch for me, but it could be for many. (As one playgoer, who prides himself on enthusiasm for works by Chekhov, Strindberg, et al, said, “the whole thing was entirely unfortunate – the music, the acting, the play.”)
To be sure, the play is anything but linear, pretty darn plot-less (minus a love story between Big Joe and armless prostitute Rae), and fluid about time. So, if you prefer a story spooling out logically to an avalanche of metaphors about suffering, this play will impress you as barely cohesive, experimental as hell, and moodier than most.
And here’s the deal that contributes to that feeling: The Unfortunates is a collaborative effort among a number of actors-turned-playwrights-turned-musicians, all of whom play large parts in the play, and all of whom are fabulous actors and musicians (if not playwrights).
The play/musical is mercifully 90 minutes short, without intermission. It begins in a prison camp, travels to a New Orleans-style bar and flirts with the underworld.
The piece brushes with war, the plague, hell in all versions, and misfortune of all stripes – including armlessness and addictions. Its characters are bigger-than-life comic-book versions, from the bar “madame” to onetime bar-owner King Jesse, to dazed and bedazzled Big Joe with his over-sized craps-throwing hands, to pitiful songbird Rae whose wings are clipped. Everyone endures a miserable life, but without the trajectory or development of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.
Still, if I wasn’t wild about the show, I liked the music. You’ll hear strains of the blues, rap, rock and spirituals, including good old Amazing Grace and St. James Infirmary, with which the play begins and ends. (Keep in mind the song’s first line is, “It was down in Old Joe’s barroom” and the play might make some sense.)
I doubt The Unfortunates will go to Broadway or to off-Broadway, but I admire OSF for taking risks and producing such a wild and woolly ensemble piece.
– Angela Allen is a Portland-based journalist, photographer and poet, who drinks in as many plays as she can when visiting Ashland and staying at the Chanticleer.
I want to recommend a new book “Bouncing Back” by Linda Graham, my friend and dear guest at the Chanticleer Inn!
Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being offers new tools and techniques to help us recover our innate capacities to meet life’s challenges, whether everyday disappointments or extraordinary disasters, with calm, clarity, flexibility and courage.
Bouncing Back shows readers how to harness the neuroplasticity of their own brains to strengthen the structures of the brain they need to “bounce back” and not only get through hard times but thrive in their midst.
The neuroscience is accessible; the exercises are powerful — a worth while read for all.
Taming of the Shrew
I really liked this performance! I’m glad Taming of the Shrew will run through the entire 2013 season, everyone should get a chance to see it.
It must be hard to do a play everyone already knows, or thinks they already know. The OSF team did a great job making Taming of the Shrew feel fresh and fun. It is very accessible to playgoers of all ages; and at various levels of Shakespeare sophistication.
The review in the Daily Tidings does a great job describing the play. All I will add to it is: Go and enjoy!
I’ve always admired Maya Angelou, I think Shakespeare would have too.
The provocative declaration “Shakespeare must be a black girl” starts this lovely Atlantic Monthly article essentially saying that: “The poetry you read has been written for you, each of you—black, white, Hispanic, man, woman, gay, straight.”
One of my new favorites: Tot Restaurant!
At 310 Oak St. (walking distance from the Chanticleer Inn) check out their menu and the website: www.totrestaurant.com
Opened June ’12, one of the newest places in town. I’ve been there twice, each time it was a delight. Wonderful food and great service.
They call themselves “Southeast Asian BBQ”, but it’s more that BBQ. Soups, rice bowls and sandwiches are available — all very well prepared with great mix of flavors! Worth going back and back, and back.
For more restaurant selections go to Ellen’s favorite eatery list.
Karen’s review of Animal Crackers:
Although I may have seen the Marx Brothers film by this name, I have no independent memory of it. I was assured by a fellow theatre-goer that the play we saw that night bore only the faintest resemblance to the movie. I settled in to enjoy two and a half hours of pure entertainment by a cast with boundless energy and enthusiasm for the material and its historical importance in the American theatrical tradition. And, they hit every single nail squarely on its head.
The first visual joke got the audience in the mood; the second had us smiling. The third followed quickly behind but the fourth, entirely unexpected and “over the top,” brought forth a roar of approval. The jokes never stopped coming and the audience never stopped laughing. Read More
Karen’s Review of Party People:
As the second of this season’s plays in the OSF American Revolutions: The United States History Project, “Party People” struck closer to my personal experience than had “All the Way” the day before. Not only because I lived in close proximity through the events portrayed, but also because a colleague of mine had been shot by a member of the Black Panthers, in spite of her role as one of their defense attorneys.
The production (it is so much more than a “play”) was conceived, created and performed by UNIVERSES, a dozen actors/singers/dancers/composers/political activists who incorporate all of these skills into their work. The result is a multi-media, multi-emotional experience. Read More
“Medea Macbeth Cinderella”
Karen’s Review of MMC:
This is the fourth iteration of a play-making process Bill Rauch began 30 years ago. At that time it was presented in his dormitory basement, then as an Actor’s Gang-Cornerstone production in 1998 in Los Angeles before opening the Yale Repertory Theatre’s season in 2002.
And, it is a fascinating idea. Take three plays, one from each of “the three great populist movements of Western drama” – classical Greek tragedy, Elizabethan drama and the American musical – and meld them together into one theatrical experience. Apparently, Rauch placed the scripts side by side and discovered a “synchronicity” of themes and events. They all dealt with the same things: ambition, magic, transformation, the parent/child relationship, and the role of women in male-dominated societies. “Medea Macbeth Cinderella” pays homage to these themes and the three historical genres. Read More
Another review from Karen, this one on Robert Schenkkan’s play “All the Way.”
Robert Schenkkan’s play about Lyndon Baines Johnson takes place during the first year of his Presidency, immediately after the assassination of Jack Kennedy in 1963. The production went into rehearsal at the same time as the release of Robert Caro’s fourth volume of his LBJ biography, covering about the same time period. The play focuses less on the events of that year, and much more on the interactions between the President and the major players in those events: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, Governor George Wallace, and Senators Dick Russell, Everett Dirksen, and Hubert Humphrey. Read More
My dear friend and long-standing guest Karen writes this review of Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa. My opinions are in the comments.
Maybe it was the stress of worrying whether or not the fog was going to lift early enough for my Monterey-SFO flight to land in time for me to make my 1/2 hour connection to the plane to Medford. Or, perhaps it was the cab driver telling me that the audience for this show was “leaving in droves” at the intermission. Or, it could have been the other guests at my favorite bed and breakfast remarking how astonished they were that OSF would present a play that still needed so much work. Read More