“Head Over Heels”
A Review by Desiree Remick
“Head Over Heels”, true to its name, throws you head over heels into a world of enchanting musical madness, where entire kingdoms can pack up and hit the road on vacation, where a man disguised as an Amazon can be mistaken for a dainty lady in the dark, where the ability to dance is mandatory, and where everyone embraces her (or his) inner goddess. The play is three hours (with intermission), which in my opinion is a little excessive for a musical – but entertaining the whole way through. It blends old-fashioned themes and archaic language with modern speech and politics for a unique timeless flavor. Someone who struggles to understand Shakespeare and another who abhors twenty-first century lingo could find equal enjoyment in this theatre piece.
The play opens in the small kingdom of Arcadia, whose inhabitants are lifted from the 16th century Sir Philip Sidney classic of the same name. Duke Basilius tries his luck with an oracle and receives an unwelcome prophesy in four parts: first, that his eldest daughter will find love, but not with a man; second, that his younger daughter will take a liar to bed; third, that he and his wife will both commit adultery – with the same person, no less; and finally that before the year is out he will have given away his own crown. The good duke, who is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, announces his intent to take an extended ‘road trip’ to neighboring Bohemia, in an attempt to thwart his destiny. But of course, you can’t run away from fate.
There is drama. There is romance. There is comedy (much of it genuinely funny, which is not something that should be taken for granted). There is a lot of innuendo, breaking of the fourth wall, clever jokes and asides tailored to a knowledgeable audience – plenty of references that will slip past the kids – and don’t forget the music! There’s even a sword fight, which ends in the most unexpected way.
I did have some issues with the play as well. It takes an onerously long time to get going (long enough that the actors themselves start joking about it), and the ending also drags a bit. While the message of acceptance is a solid one, there are a few times where the writers allowed their enthusiasm to overflow, which resulted in a few unnecessary scenes and a soliloquy that does not fit with the rest of the script’s tone. Oh, and if your hearing is sensitive or you are prone to getting headaches from too much noise, I advise that you bring a pair of earplugs. The music is quite loud, and I was especially unfortunate in my seating arrangement, which placed me in front of some people who laughed and whistled directly into my ear at every chance.
In conclusion, however, I found “Head Over Heels” to be a lot of fun. If you love musicals or wild tales in the vein of Shakespeare, if you are a supporter of gay rights and the LGBT community, or if you just like to have a good time, this play is an evening well spent.
Guys and Dolls — a Review
Guys and Dolls is truly entertaining and very well done … this coming from someone who loves music and especially dance, but not particularly musical theater.
If you like musical theater, then you must go to see Guys and Dolls. Others who are musical theater lovers, such as, my friend Jim are loving the show.
The two lead women, Kate Hurster and Robin Goodrin Nordli, really sparkle and shine, nearly stealing the show. I also loved how Rodney Gardiner played Nathan Detroit. The dancing was excellent, perhaps the best choreography Oregon Shakespeare Festival has done yet (err, in a long time).
David Stabler’s review (see it here) provides another view, funnily enough reflecting much of what I think and feel.
Identity of Shakespeare Mysterious Mr. WH Possibly Revealed
Many have debated to whom were the sonnets written by Shakespeare really dedicated? The only hint was the enigmatic Mr. WH.
Geoffrey Caveney, an American Shakespeare scholar, seems to have come up with a very plausible answer. Read here and come to your own conclusion!
Pizza and Salad at Mystic Treats Restaurant
After a day rafting on the Rogue river, we went for pizza at Mystic Treats, a newish restaurant on Ashland St. near Rite Aid. Mystic Treats has a diverse menu of unusual pizza selections. If none of those works for you, then you can assemble your own. Never being one to pass over smoked salmon, we selected to share the Jeremiah Johnson pizza and had our own side salads. It was tasty and if I’m in the mood for pizza and happen to in that part of town it’s THE place to go.
It was our good fortune that Mystic Treats had live music tonight. Maurice Woodard was playing some blues and jazz with Lucy accompanying. Most of the time, as Maurice’s service dog, Lucy quietly snoozes. But she has a special number in which she’s does a duet with Maurice. The link below is a video of part of their act.
“The Great Society” Ranked and Rated by My Guests
For many years, the Larson Family has been attending plays at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. While visiting at the Chanticleer, Victoria shared with me how the family has developed a system to score and rate the plays they see. Each family member scores the plays (1–9, of course plays being highly regarded get 9) he or she sees. Then an average is calculated. Below is an image of the Larson Family’s 2014 OSF score sheet.
Box Office Success for “All the Way” on Broadway
For anyone who has seen “All the Way” the news that the play is breaking record sales should not be surprising.
“All the Way,” the Tony Award-winning drama starring Bryan Cranston as U.S. President Lyndon Johnson, broke a box office record when it grossed over $1.4 million in a week, more than any new straight play in Broadway history.
The play by Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Schenkkan (go here for an interview with Schenkkan about “All the Way”) shattered the record for eight performances during the week ending June 22. He also the playwright for “The Handler” and “By the Waters of Babylon”
“All the Way” was commissioned and premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and then at the American Repertory Theater in Massachusetts before opening on Broadway.
Kate Vogt Introduces Fellow Actor Picasso
In this video, Kate Vogt and Picasso talk about performing in Two Gentlemen of Verona, the role of Crab done by Picasso and their relationship. O.K., O.K. … Kate does the talking and Picasso does the drooling. Picasso is the only male performer in the play.
The Tempest, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
I really liked the Tempest. Like many Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s patrons, having seen the play a number of times, I was not sure how well I would like this version. After seeing the Tempest, I liked it much more than I thought I would, and I’m glad OSF is doing it.
The staging and production was inventive and expressive without getting in the way of the storytelling. The Tempest has a strong cast and it was well directed.
It will please many people; and interestingly enough it will satisfy both ‘camps’. Those who insist Shakespeare plays must be done ‘traditionally’ [read: in “men in tights” ala Sir Laurence Olivier] and those who like a modern spare production. The setting is on a magical island and on that island many strange and mystifying things happen and logically those stranded on it for years have lost their ‘traditional’ Elizabethan garb. But the newly arrived shipwrecked characters are in fancy noblemen clothes.
But I think most will very much admire the way the entire production is pulled together. The beautiful buto dancers who silently move through the story, making things happen, assisting Ariel fly, etc. The love scenes are charming, and the comedy is not over-the-top silly.
The Tempest is in the Bowmer, and will run throughout the season.
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.