“The Underpants Godot”

The Underpants Godot

By Duncan Pflaster
Directed by Alan Quismorio

Jordan Ong (as Mark, an actor playing Estragon) and Francisco Rodriguez (as Tim, and actor playing Vladamir) Photo by Joseph Tally.
Jordan Ong (as Mark, an actor playing Estragon) and Francisco Rodriguez (as Tim, and actor playing Vladamir) Photo by Joseph Tally.

San Francisco, CA
at Theatre Rhinoceros

What fun! Especially for a theater fan who still cringes when he remembers going to a production of Waiting for Godot when he was precocious senior in high school.

I was too young, too tired, or too something for the non-action on stage. I don’t remember the details of the play, but I remember the agonizing pacing, and I remember wondering if the plaudits for Beckett’s writing weren’t a giant hoax aimed at too trusting and too serious students who were trying to understand Culture.

Getting the references and riffs in Theatre Rhinoceros’ pop-up production of The Underpants Godot made that long night of theater 40-some years ago worthwhile.

Duncan Pflaster’s script is a masterpiece that often mirrors the cadence and character relationships of Beckett’s Godot. But Pflaster makes intelligent and understandable points about theater, people, and life. There are a lot of comments about theater, and they are both insightful and very, very funny.

The plot tells the story of a Waiting for Godot production where the characters are gay men wearing, at most, underpants. We watch as a rehearsal is stopped by the visit of a representative of the estate of Samuel Beckett. She has to determine if this underpants version violates the terms of the license which demand faithfulness to the text and to Beckett’s intent.

As the characters explore the legitimacy of the underpants concept, a lot of theater is discussed in a humorous, yet meaningful way.

The estate representative, for example, lists in rapid-fire the different concepts she’s seen used in producing Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “One set in Greenwich Village where the Fairies were actually the Mafia? One set in a drive-in where the Fairies were B-movie Monsters from Beyond the Silver Screen? One set at Christmas with Oberon as Santa Claus and Puck as an elf? One set outdoors in a park, where the Fairies were the Homeless?”

Funny, yes. But, also on point in the discussion of how far can/should directors go in using a play for their own purposes.

If nothing else, Theatre Rhino gets applause for its play selection.

Fortunately, their pop-up production is excellently done. Truly.

First, the space they are using is a corner of the Sparks Art Gallery. The back exhibition room has 34 folding chairs set up to face the other wall. The stage is the floor from the far wall 20 feet toward the center of the room. This is a perfect set for Waiting for Godot where the only scenery is a rock and a scrawny tree. It works completely.

Director Alan Quismorio assembled a cast that ranges from very credible to absolutely wonderful. Four actors were standouts.

Andrew Calabrese (Kevin/Lucky) earned show-stopping applause for Kevin’s unexpected detailed oration that started with the exploration of the homoerotic nature Waiting for Godot. The lines are brilliant and an homage to a similar unexpected outburst by Lucky in Beckett’s work. Calabreses nailed the speech and his character.

Francisco Rodriguez (Tim/Vladamir) and Jordan Ong (Mark/Estragon) switch back and forth between their roles as actors and the characters in Beckett’s play with easy clarity. Director Quismorio has them swish and sashay as their characters in Waiting for Godot, and then be grumpier and butcher as gay actors. I loved that decision and the way the actors pulled it off. These men carry the play and they don’t falter.

Jordan Ong (as Mark, an actor playing Estragon) and Francisco Rodriguez (as Tim, and actor playing Vladamir)  Photo by Joseph Tally.
Jordan Ong (as Mark, an actor playing Estragon) and
Francisco Rodriguez (as Tim, and actor playing Vladamir) Photo by Joseph Tally.

The representative of the Becket estate is not consistent in her actions. Sometimes she bends and sometimes she is unyielding, and there doesn’t seem to be a coherent motivation for either behavior. Yet, Elizabeth Finkler (Tara) is so big and certain in her portrayal of the representative that while the play was going on I didn’t question any of her rulings. Later, talking about the play with friends, I thought, “Wait! Why was x okay but y would be a showstopper? It should have been explained.”

Of course, to honor Beckett, nothing should be explained. And, Finkler’s Tara let us keep our questions unthought of past the wildly enthusiastic curtain call.

In a performance where everything works, it’s got to be the director’s fault. So, special applause to Quismorio who made a theater pop up in a small art gallery’s back room. He used, not just put up with, the location and give us an intimate performance of a tight play. The characters worked together and the action felt consistent and logical.

The Underpants Godot pop-up production is a terrifically enjoyable surprise. Theatre Rhino gives the audience a very witty and wise play delivered with style and spot-on acting. See it if you can!

The Underpants Godot has two more performances, Friday and Saturday, March 22 and 23. Online tickets are sold out but a limited number of tickets are sold at the door for $10-30. Contact [email protected] for more information about attending.

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“As You Like It” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

As You Like It

by William Shakespeare
directed by Rosa Joshi

Ashland, OR
at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

As You Like It covershot
As You Like It (2019): Román Zaragoza (Orlando), Jessica Ko (Rosalind). Photo by Jenny Graham.

At the very least yet another romp through Arden Forest should be enjoyable fun. Done with artistry, a director can use this comedy to make Shakespeare seem like a feminist. After all, the freedom to love will win out and the women’s decisions share the shaping of action in Arden Forest. At least I think they do.

On the other hand, the current Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s offering didn’t even amuse me. The show is both scattered and heavy handed; it’s a supreme waste of obvious acting talent. A week after seeing it I remember some of the characters’ actions, but I never fell into the story and I never felt the production came together.

Director Rosa Joshi made some curious decisions.

The quirk that hits you from the start is the too-long, too-stylized, fascist marching in a maze pattern that the cast does in the initial scenes. Whenever it starts, the movement goes on for relatively forever. Unfortunately I was too stupid to appreciate the significance of the torturous walks that keep the play from having any momentum. So, I just watched the onstage drilling with, ahhh… bewildered patience. (I was later informed that the militaristic procession showed how rigid court life was under the new duke and could be contrasted with the life leaping in Arden Forest. Silly me for not picking this up.)

 

I assume that Christine Tschirgi, the costume designer, was just following orders when she created the ugly upholstery that the court characters had to wear. The shapes of the clothes the actors wore had nothing to do with the people in them. In any event they had the visual appeal of your grandmother’s heavy, sun-blocking curtains.

As You Like It (2019): Rex Young (Touchstone), Hannah Fawcett (Lady to Rosalind), Kate Hurster (Celia), Jessica Ko (Rosalind). Photo by Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Rex Young (Touchstone), Hannah Fawcett (Lady to Rosalind), Kate Hurster (Celia), Jessica Ko (Rosalind). Photo by Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

But, it goes beyond symbolic touches that didn’t work. The casting was confusing, and not in fun, new-twist-on-an-old-play way. Rachel Crowl (Duke Senior) , the good guy that is banished to Arden Forest by Kevin Kenerly (Duke Frederick) , is played by a woman who is made up to look — and acts — younger than the usurper. I truly had a hard time getting my mind around the fact that the younger-appearing actor on stage was the senior character in the play.

Next, Crowl is a woman and the director honored her sex by altering the lines to use the construction, “The Duke, she…” when referring to her character. Maybe this was supposed to be extra good fun in a play about a female dressing as a male, but, ugh. It didn’t feel fun to me.

I am an advocate of Love is Love is Love. But, when the play itself keys off the confusion of sexual identity and resolves when the natural (sic) order is restored, adding a layer of in-your-face sexual ambiguity that is not resolved at curtain time is unhelpful. It stands in virtual opposition to the plot of Shakespeare’s play. It’s a bad directorial choice.

Basically, I don’t like trying to figure out what part of the identities we are supposed to notice and what part we should ignore as “color-blind casting”. That goes for skin color-blind casting and sex color-blind casting. Confusion has its limits as an artistic tactic.

The distracting marching, the off-putting clothes, the muddled casting, and general disarray is a failure of direction. It’s a hot mess.

On the other hand, all of the actors are excellent. There are many wonderful moments between characters, or scenes where the actors do it just right.

Crowl’s singing is wonderful. The bare-chested flexing of James Ryen was downright artistic, and I liked the contrasting scale of the flexing of the bare-chested Román Zaragoza.

As You Like It (2019): Román Zaragoza (Orlando de Boys), Kevin Kenerly (Duke Frederic, center), James Ryen (Charles), Ensemble. Photo by Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Román Zaragoza (Orlando de Boys), Kevin Kenerly (Duke Frederic, center), James Ryen (Charles), Ensemble. Photo by Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Jessica Ko’s Roslind is excellent. Kenerly is perfect, and Rex Young (Touchstone) delivers some very, very fine scenes. Still the play fails.

One of my theater companions chronically suggests that I shouldn’t judge a performance on opening night. She says that the actors are nervous and more prone to errors. The company will develop more chemistry as the run goes on, she explains. And, that’s what she says about the opening night production we saw of As You Like It. She’s too kind.

The actors give us some quality moments. Unfortunately, the moments don’t work together. There isn’t a vision for the production that’s clear, and certainly not one that’s compelling.

This year’s As You Like It is a miss that earns its 3 stars for actors’ individual performances.

Ozdachs rating:
Ozdachs Rating: 3 Syntaxes

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Day 134 – The Final Puppy Shots!

Finally!

Ever since Auroara (aka then as MUNI) started venturing out of the whelping box on to the floor where people stepped, we have been taking off our street shoes at the door. And, washing our hands before petting her.

Puppies are not immune to many serious viruses that are Out There. They need a series of shots and booster shots against common illnesses. Parvo is the disease the vets are most worried about, but there is distemper, canine influenza, kennel cough, leptospirosis, and other nasty bugs out there.

So, we’ve kept our shoes off and asked visitors to de-shoe and wash up before handling the puppy.

Today we took Auroara to Dr. Chase for her final series of puppy shots! Her final parvo booster, her second and last canine influenza booster, and kennel cough nose spray. Her mother accompanied her and had her own annual exam and shots!

Auroara and Zenith on the exam table being held by Geoffrey
Auroara is seeing Dr. Chase for the final puppy shots while Mother Zenith is getting her annual checkup. Photo by Dr. Jill Chase

Dr. Chase says that Auroara can start meeting the public and go outside on the street in 10-14 days. This means no more shoe changing at the doorway in 2 weeks!

Side note: so the shots become fully effective in 10-14 days. In what world would we, after all this time, decide to not wait the extra 4 days to make sure the shots were completely effective? I can just see a puppy getting sick because we waited only 10 days after the final shot!

A good vet visit. A good milestone.

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Day 127 – Auroara Goes Down

Geoffrey did it! He got Auroara to go down all five steps to the back yard!

Up until about noon today, Auroara would willingly only jump down one step to the back door landing. Then she’d fuss and bark to get lifted up, held, and moved down to the ground.

This past week, I started lifting her down one more step from the top. She’d be scared and completely stiff. I’d do it again, and she would loosen a little, look at the final stair and the waiting ground. She’d often take that two-step adventure on her own, although a few times she was too tense and had to be lifted down to the final stair from which she could step to the ground.

Today, Geoffrey decided it was time to completely end the Sanctuary of the Back Yard for Apex and the other adults. He was going to show Aurora how to get down the stairs anytime she wanted.

While I was at church, Geoffrey made the pack all go outside. He had Aurora watch all the adults go down the stairs. Then he helped her down to the ground, one step at a time. He repeated the exercise a few times.

When Geoffrey stopped taking her down the steps, Auroara studied the stairs. Then, when Geoffrey went inside, she decided to try out the stairs with no audience. He says he had to sneak up behind her to watch, but she went down all the stairs by herself!

Auroara Goes Down the Stairs by Herself

When I returned home mid afternoon, Auroara was running up the steps and, with proper encouragement, going down them carefully, but decisively.

She can now go out and come in the house on her own schedule. Unsupervised.

Already our back hall has more plant and stick detritus from the back yard forays.

Another milestone toward adulthood!

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Day 121 – Playing Around

There was lots of morning play. In fact the older dogs were exhausted early on. Only Apex stayed outside to monitor the puppy… and occasionally join in some random ball play or twig gnawing.

AuRoara has been expert going up the stairs for a while. She still doesn’t go DOWN all the way, though. She’ll take the first step down to the landing, but then stops.

She’s also started going up one stair, going along it, and then she’s able to jump down to the ground again. Today she practiced the bottom stair maneuver a few times.

Incremental progress is important!

AuRoara Playing along the Bottom Stair
Exploring along the Bottom Stair.
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