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.