The Best Season Opening

Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s season opening this past weekend showcased four excellent productions.  It was the strongest festival start that I — and my more experienced Ashland friends — have experienced.

Bravo!

I hope to write full reviews of each performance.  But, here are my snap judgements, listing the four plays in my overall order of enjoyment.

Fingersmith
by Alexa Junge based on the novel by Sarah Waters
Syntax says: Ozdachs Rating: 5 out of 5 Syntaxes

Fingersmith

photo by Oregon Shakespeare Festival

This world premiere commissioned by the festival is full of “Wow” plot twists delivered with exquisite attention to language and the style of the times (1861).  The acting, set, crafts, … everything works.  The performance is in three acts that take a full three hours. Yet the whole audience wished there were more acts .

The show blurb says Fingersmith Victorian crime thriller. And, you do feel like you’ve indulged in a guilty pleasure because the experience is so fun.  But, on reflection, there was a lot of social commentary and revelation concealed by the enjoyable tight plotline.

I am waitlisted to see the performance again when we go back in late April.  This play runs in the spring only, and apparently tickets are going to be snapped up… so book or get on the waitlist yourself now.

Much Ado About Nothing
by William Shakespeare
Syntax says:Ozdachs Rating: 4 1/2 Syntaxes out of 5

Seeing a bad Much Ado with a terrible Dogberry was the trigger event in our decision to stop subscribing to Berkeley Repertory Theater 15 or so years ago. So, I usually avoid seeing this play, and bought tickets only because it was the opening play of opening weekend. This production may get me to reverse my defacto dred!

The director, Lileana Blain-Cruz, brought a clean, innovative vision that reminded me of Bill Rauch with his surprising and interesting takes on plays I think I don’t want to see again.  The story was clear, characters consistently motivated, and the actors had chemistry and energy.  And, Rex Young’s Dogberry on a Segway is not to be missed!

Pericles
by William Shakespeare
Syntax says: Ozdachs Rating: 4 Syntaxes out of 5

The acting is spectacular! Wayne Carr (Pericles) is a standout, and there is no one onstage who is less than excellent.  Again, the story is presented easily and powerfully.  As soap-opera-y as the narrative is, we got sucked in and most of us were teary-eyed at the revelatory moments.

Unfortunately, some tech choices brought me out of the moment and into the mode of being a critic. The costumes, hair, and make-up were God-awful to the point of farce and also inconsistent.  Ugly and sackcloth-like when the character is royalty. Why?

And, this production will be remembered as Pericles the Musical.  There’s way too many sudden outbursts of singing, and it feels unnatural and distracting.  Act II starts with a song that is particularly out of place.

Guys and Dolls
Based on a story by Damon Runyon | Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser | Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
Syntax says: NO RATING

This is the first musical in Ashland that triggered my “I don’t like musicals” reaction.  I just felt the evening was fluff.

But, I recognize that the entire production was extremely well done fluff.  The singing, the dancing, the acting, the staging, the everything… was world class.  I think OSF has done a terrific job of delivering the best of this classical musical.  It just did not do it for me.

I recommend that if you like Guys and Dolls, or other musicals in that style, that you snap up a ticket.  It’s a 5-star musical evening.  On the other hand, my personal star meter barely twitched.

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