Saturday, June 20, 2009

OSF Day 3: Macbeth and Don Quixote

We awoke once again to the dulcet smells of Dean's cooking at the Blue Moon Bed and Breakfast.  Today it was an apricot bake with the usual fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee, fresh fruit.  Again I went looking for Ty, his doggie.  Here's a picture of Will in front of the Blue Moon:


Then off to find Ed and friends.  Many of the Stanford theater crowd had come into town and were staying at a youth hostel on Main Street.  Ed made a spicy egg scramble with mushrooms and red peppers and chicken sausage, and it was delicious.  We ate our second breakfast and then took off to wonder more around Ashland before our 2:00 matinée.

Several of the nice people at the Blue Moon had recommended trying the trail nearby the creek, so we walked through the park to a lovely wide trail, and found a romantic bench overlooking the creek:


Then we had to take off to see Macbeth.  The play was well done, with a strong Lady Mac and abstract, post-atomic-bomb-esque sets, including a twisted, melted staircase and most striking, iron cast statues of people caught in muck lining the edge of the stage.  Macbeth is not a light play, as some fairly brutal murders take place (including the killing of a young child on stage), and I left it feeling dark and somewhat disgusted.  Will liked it, however, because of all the fight choreography, even though we both agreed that the actor playing the main role did too much shouting.

Between the matinée and the preview for Don Quixote we called Ed, who told us to meet the group at Alex's, a cute bar/restaurant on the plaza square.  When we got there the Stanford group had moved on to start cooking dinner, but Ed recommended we try Alex's famous Bloody Mary's.  We sat on the porch overlooking the square and sipping our Bloody Mary's, which Will said was quite a production including two different types of ground peppers, olive juice, and other ingredients as well as the tomato juice and vodka:


It was spicy, tangy, and perfect.  When we finished the Bloody Mary's, we headed again to the hostel to eat dinner with Ed and his crew.  We were excited to meet Eddie, who had played the teenage boy Danny (?) in the Music Man production we saw yesterday, at dinner with us.  Eddie had given the preview for Don Quixote in the past, so he gave us some of the information that he knew.

Will and I still sped off to make the 6:30 preview information about Don Quixote.  It is a novel written by a middle-aged gentleman (I think both Cervantes and the fictional Quixote were in their fifties at the time of the novel) and this play version contemplates the life that Cervantes led as well as Quixote.  Cervantes had a father who was a barber; he fought as a soldier and crippled his left hand valiantly in a naval battle; his ship was captured by pirates and he was sold into slavery; he came back to Spain and worked as a tax collector and other random jobs.  The OSF version of Don Quixote featured Cervantes as a mysterious character that continued to show up through the play, and it was great to know the information about his life ahead of time so that we could figure out that each of the fact tidbits about Cervantes in the play were based on biographical information.

Following the preview, we had some time to kill, so we went to a cafe for some coffee and fruit pie:


We are chugging our way through Independent People, an Icelandic book by Halldor Laxness, and we read out loud to each other while sipping our coffee and munching on our pies.  Then still with some time to kill, we found a trendy, friendly wine bar called Liquid Assets, where we had a glass of wine before heading into the evening show.

Don Quixote we both agreed was by far our favorite show of the six, which was great because we finished on a high point.  It featured the extensive use of ingenious puppets to set the scene, to include animals (such as vultures, owls, ducks) to set the mood of the play, and to delightfully represent the "foes" that Don Quixote defeats.  For example, OSF made a flock of sheep out of socks (think: sock stuffed with another sock to add weight, and then attached by the top to the frame so that the fleece all moved with the puppet).  When Don Quixote mistook the flock of sheep for attacking armies and slaughters them, the puppeteers turned the sheep upside down, revealing red socks beneath the white socks -- dead sheep.  The creativity involved in creating windmills, donkeys, the horse, and The Enchanter (a symbol for Don Quixote's fear of failure and of death) reminded me of The Lion King -- creative, ingenious, and charming.

The bottom line, however, is that I cared for Don Quixote.  I was concerned through the entire play that they would kill him at the end (which Ed said should have happened), and was delighted that they found another way of tying up the story.  I am a sucker for stories about people who believe in their dreams, and Don Quixote is always kind, always chivalric, and always just.

It was supposed to rain today, but it held off all day and just started sprinkling in the last scene of the play.  How perfect.

Friday, June 19, 2009

OSF Day 2: The Music Man and Henry VIII

Another gorgeous day in Ashland.  Woke for 9am family-style breakfast at the Blue Moon bed and breakfast.  Our host, Dean, is also a great breakfast chef, and this morning he served up an Italian fritatta with fruit, fresh-baked bread, juice, and coffee.  The bread was a real hit with me, well-seasoned with herbs and well-dolloped with berry preserves.

A lazy morning around the bed and breakfast as I read my book and Lauren blogged away.  She took short breaks to meet all the little dogs that are staying here at the moment.  We also napped to regain some energy after multiple late nights and early mornings in a row.

Eventually, we wandered into downtown Ashland, browsed through a few shops, and settled on Munchies for lunch.  A simple sandwich place that nailed our main requirement of getting us fed and out the door in plenty of time to make our 2pm play.

The first play of the day was The Music Man.  To my surprise, Lauren hadn't seen the show and wasn't familiar with the story.  Luckily for her, this was a top-notch production.  Great use of visual cues (the town's accents and their whole wardrobe changed gradually from black-and-white to vibrant colors over the course of the play), a very strong actor and singer playing the role of Harold Hill, and overall a very sincere -- even serious -- approach to this lighthearted show.  The only weak link was Marion, who was a triple threat (couldn't sing, dance, or act).  The flatness of the love story between this Harold and this Marion gives Lauren something to look forward to in future productions, I guess.

The show ended around 4:30, and we had an odd bit of time to kill before the 6:30pm "preface" for our next show, Henry VIII.  At Ed's recommendation, we went to Standing Stone Brewing Co.  It was too late for lunch and too early for dinner, but just the right time for Lauren to discover her "favorite beer to date," their Honey Cream Ale.  We snacked on beer and pretzels and edamame beans and the sound of the Ashland Creek burbling beside us.


Stole some time in the park to read from the Icelandic masterpiece, Independent People, before we made our way back to the theater complex for the Henry VIII preface, or as Lauren seemed to take it, "the nap."  Learned many details of history and of the play (very different things, it turns out), which would prove valuable in following along this evening.  Surprised to hear that Henry was actually a devout Catholic early in life, author of treatises on papal authority, and bearer of the title "Defender of the Faith."  In Shakespeare's play at least, his first divorce is at least partly motivated by genuine concern that Henry and Catherine may have broken God's law by marrying after Catherine's first husband (Henry's brother Arthur) died.

Another odd hour and a half of down time between the preface and the play itself.  Strolled down Main St. to Zoey's Cafe, which seemed as nice a place as any to sip a coffee and read more Independent People.  I'm loving this book. Lauren warns: "don't open this book if you don't like sheep."  Lauren then discovered her favorite part of Ashland, the kettle corn stand just next door to the theater complex:


The play itself was written at the very end of Shakespeare's career, at a time when pageantry and spectacle were big draws to the theater.  Lots of fighting, lots of fantasy, lots of people and lots of ornate costumes onstage.  Strong performances all around, including many faces that were now familiar to us from the other plays this week.  (Harold Hill rocking an early monologue as Buckingham, for example.  Fun!)  We continued the Ed Iskandar tradition of enjoying a nice bottle of port under the stars and in front of the stage.

Henry VIII is widely considered one of the more problematic plays.  As the man running the preface delicately put it, this is because "It's not terribly well-written, it's likely at least half written by Fletcher, and it has no real plot."  And those problems were certainly present.  But we were impressed at how well this production had been cut, and at how well the play succeeded as a propaganda piece.  (It was originally written to be performed for Henry's grandson King James).

After the show, we walked to the Ashland Hostel for a kitchen conversation with Ed and Sonja.  We debriefed on the plays, made plans for the next day, and then quickly stepped home for some welcome sleep.

Impressions of Ashland so far: beautiful landscape that could easily be a slightly taller version of the Berkeley hills.  Main streets that are reminiscent of a whiter, slightly hippy-er Palo Alto.  Friendly people.  Lots of trees.  And of course, Shakespeare names everywhere (staying in the Midsummer Night room, snacking on the Brutus sandwich, walking by the Best Western Bard's Inn, etc.).  We hypothesize that anyone who doesn't like Shakespeare probably doesn't last long in this town and simply heads for the hills.

OSF Day 1: Equivocation and Much Ado

Last Christmas, Will gave me a card that said, "Merry Christmas!  Let's go to Oregon!"  I was excited, but it seemed so far in the future.  Six months passed quickly, and now in June 2009, we sit here in our adorable Blue Moon Bed and Breakfast with our hospitable innkeeper, his dog Ty, and the new friends that we met over breakfast.

Yesterday we drove up from California to Oregon.  We woke early in the morning to have some quiet time before the long drive. Will sat at the meditation center across the street, and I went for a quiet morning run.  Then we stopped for breakfast at our favorite bagel shop -- cheese and eggs and sausage/ham on our bagels -- and got on the road.

Here is a picture of the two of us starting out.  Thank you to Will for using his car and for driving.  Note Will's extra cool sunglasses:

We drove up 101 to 80, then went to the East Bay, crossed the Bay Bridge, and came up to I-5.  On the 250 mile drive on I-5 we spent the time listening to the light, delightful character sketches by Spider Robinson.  I was dubious because it was another one of Will's sci-fi books, but like most of the sci-fi stuff he has shared with me, this one was actually quite good.  We passed by the beautiful Mount Shasta as we headed further and further north:


Finally we arrived in Ashland.  Southern Oregon is temperate and beautiful this time of year, sunny but still cool.  The trees are so thick and lush here that it makes me think of the East Coast -- covering the hills in green and growing above and between houses.  The town of Ashland is pretty and full of Shakespeare references, like "Puck's Donut Shop" or "All's Well," where you can pick up herbs or vitamins.

We reached the theater parking lot a mere half an hour before the show started, so Will and I switched into tag-team mode to get everything done before our first matinée.  Will went to pick up the tickets while I headed for Allison's Gourmet Wine and Deli shop to pick up a sandwich for the starving Will.  Luckily for Will, the box office went quickly, but I got stuck in the pre-performance crowd of stressed-out theatergoers who were hassling the bewildered blonde sandwich boy, trying to make him get their lunches faster.  With ten minutes to go before the start of the play, we opted for a potato soup and a red pepper soup instead of sandwiches, and desperately spent two minutes sipping it standing outside of the theater before regretfully putting the caps back on and going in to sit down.  The play started right on time.

The first matinée we saw was Equivocation by Bill Cain.   The play mainly explored two plot lines: 1. whether Shakespeare, the main character of the play, should buckle to the government and write propaganda, or uphold his responsibility to tell the truth; and 2. whether Shakespeare would reconcile with his daughter Judith, who was the twin sister of the son Hamnet that he lost when the boy was 11 (often this child is thought to be the emotional basis for the play Hamlet).



The more prominent theme of the play was how to tell the truth in a time of great danger, and ultimately Cain's answer to that question is through equivocation -- by careful wordsmithing and through storytelling, which can tell the heart of the truth but can change the specifics of the facts.  All in all it was a fairly dark play, with a terrifying 1984-esque government under King James and his head crone, the bad guy Robert Cavell (?) that would periodically torture people (of course, not calling it torture) in fairly graphic scenes.

Will, Ed, and I had a great time debriefing the play.  Will thought that the allusions to the modern era were heavy-handed; I thought it was fun (and in comparison to the Amy Freedman political plays that Ed did with Stanford, not as obvious).  We talked about the widespread use of Shakspearean allusions as creating an in-group and out-group (e.g., it is exclusive), but if that sort of thing will fly anywhere, here is the place.  In general we thought a lot about how artifice in plays (allusions and "witty" writing) can either add or detract from the experience of the story.  All in all, a great and fun play with an ending scene that lets the viewer down.

Then off to Ed's place for dinner, a spicy chicken sausage and red pepper dish that was amazing.  We caught up on Ed's time in Indonesia.

The evening show was Much Ado About Nothing, with fantastic seats in the Shakespearean Globe theater.  Will got spectacular seats, and we cuddled together beneath the starry night that we could see over the stage rooftops of the theater.



It was fun, as always, but I have to say that each time I see the play, I have less and less patience for the characters' constant and central debate over Hero's virginity.  This play sparked a discussion of what ages well and does not age well in Shakespeare.  My conclusion after our discussion is that the tragedies tend to age better (in fact, I connected better with Much Ado when it dipped into tragedy mode), and the humor is just so hard to play right.  It was a very beautiful, professional production, but I did not fall in love with the characters.  Luckily I was sitting in a very romantic theater under the stars with a very romantic play, and of course the very romantic Will Robinson.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Wilcox Graduation

Yesterday I went to the graduation of my students at Wilcox High School.  I had a lot invested in that class.  The students that I taught as freshman my first year of teaching were going off to college!
Two students in particular I had taught for three years -- their freshman, sophomore, and junior years.  I saw one of them, Osama, at the graduation -- he was a smaller kid in high school, but shot up sophomore and junior year, and by the end of senior year he's tall, confident, well spoken.  I am so proud of him.  Two other young men who were bemoaning being short as juniors have shot up and now towered over me.  It was amazing.  
I am so proud of my students, and the love for those young people was so clear in the huge mass of people standing and listening to the whole ceremony.  There is a Sarah Vowell short story that describes the love of a parent as the little check marks that the father puts next to each band song in a concert, sitting through each rendition of "What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor" because he loves his daughter.  Graduation was similar.  Despite the faulty sound system, the 500 names read out loud in rapid recession, the shaky notes of the band climbing towards the climax of "Land of the Free," and the two helicopters that flew over the field during the valedictorian speech, we were so proud of our youth.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Andrea Bocelli Concert!

Will said he had a surprise for me on Saturday, and I was so excited all week!  We ate dinner in Mountain View and then hopped onto the freeway.  I thought we would head up to San Francisco, but to my surprise we headed south towards San Jose and ended up at HP Pavillion.  Will told me to close my eyes when we got there, so the first thing I saw was a big SUV truck.

Getting out of the car, I looked around at the other people going into the venue with us.  They were mostly middle-aged, and dressed well ... and then I saw one with a dog on her sweater and thought, Great!  A dog show -- I'm so excited!

Getting closer to the ticket booth, however, I saw a flashing screen saying, "Andrea Bocelli."  Hurray!  I have loved Andrea Bocelli for such a long time, including listening to his CD of "Time to Say Goodbye" over and over again.  Now I would be seeing him in person.



We entered the venue, picked up some wine, and found our seats.  HP Pavillion is huge, and it was filled to the brim.  The orchestra played an opening piece, and then Andrea Bocelli entered the stage.

Of course there was thunderous applause.  Bocelli sang an aria, and from the moment he began singing it was clear that he is the real deal, completely deserving of all the hype.  His voice filled the entire arena, and he hit the higher notes with ease.  I was impressed by his control over his voice.

Bocelli was accompanied by a soprano who could hit incredible notes.  It made me think about an NPR article I heard once that said that sopranos and tenors were like the sporting events of their day, with face-offs between two sopranos across town from one another, each trying to outdo the other in their arias.  This soprano would have won.  Clearly.

Then a flautist who played the Bumblebee, and a Broadway singer who sang a pop song with Bocelli that turned the Pavillion into a rock concert (this was my favorite part -- the rock really filled and matched the venue).  Bocelli finished the concert on the second or third encore with "Time to Say Goodbye," which made me feel so happy.

It was a wonderful evening.  Thank you, honey.