June 28, 2007

Ashland 2007 – Day Three

Our final day was a day of comedy, starting with As You Like It, though it played a little darker than usual. The Depression era costumes and folk-blues songs helped to enhance the sense of hardship in the forest of Arden, even while the usurped Duke reminds his followers of the blessings in their situation. As usual, the company worked both the text and the situation – even without a clue from the text – for laughs.

Breaking our vow to eat at all new places, we had dinner at the Standing Stone Brewery for dinner. Outside, there was a jazz band playing, the same band as last year this time. They were very good, but left too soon.

As we like to do, we closed with a farce, Tom Stoppard’s On The Razzle, a confection, dedicated to the expression of every kind of joke, verbal and physical, available to the playwright. It was very funny, if not particularly lofty. A surprise for us, Emily Knapp, who appeared in several Harlequin productions a year ago, or so, played the Shop Assistant and the French Maid. This is the third young person we’ve seen in Ashland, whom we’ve also seen before in Harlequin productions.

June 24, 2007

Ashland 2007 – Day Two

Yesterday afternoon's play was Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. This was the first time I've seen this play. I like Chekhov – one of my favorite speeches in drama is from Uncle Vanya (Sonia’s first speech in Act 1). I liked the interplay of character and situation, as the economic destruction of feudalism, begun with the "catastrophe" of the emancipation of the serfs, continues. It was not as emotional as yesterday's productions, but I don't usually find Chekhov to be particularly emotional. As a playwright, he's more of an observer of humans – of his characters – rather than a manipulator of his audience.

We had a nice, English pub-style dinner at the Black Sheep Pub. It's a big place, on the top floor of the big brick building (which appears in very old photos of Ashland) on Water Street. The menu hit all of the pub-food marks that you'd expect and there were a few English beers on tap, too. I had a Newcastle Brown and some good fish and chips. J had a steak and kidney pie and a glass of red.

The evening's play was our first foray into the world as reconstructed by August Wilson, the beginning of his grand cycle (which I just realized has no over-arching title; refreshing) of twentieth century, African-American history, Gem of the Ocean. It was fascinating and beautiful. The characters of Aunt Ester and Solly Two Kings were beautiful and wonderful recreations of historical archetypes. They represented, respectively, the African past and it's present uses, and the continuing (continuous?) struggle, in the present, to come to inherit and make use of the promise of freedom. Their solemn and warm affection bridged these two elements and created a powerful collaboration. And when Greta Oglesby, who played Aunt Ester, sang, there was nothing to say but, "Wow."

June 23, 2007

Ashland 2007 – Day One

We were privileged to be able to spend another long weekend in Ashland for our annual visit to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The drive down here was so uneventful that I don't remember much of it at all. Talking books and good weather can do that.

We're staying in the Shrew's House, a bed and breakfast along Siskiyou Blvd. This is the first time in a B&B in several years and, interestingly, the first season for the proprietors, too. Last year, they were making their annual visit to Ashland, and staying across the street, when they needed an extra night, so they tried this place. As it happened, the place was for sale and, one thing leading to another, they bought it and moved here four months ago. Nice folks.

Staying here at the same time is another set of nice folks, a pair of couples who have been coming to Ashland for decades. They've been staying in this B&B for ten years. We've had some nice breakfast table conversations and, in one of the nice elements of a B&B stay, the owners will sit down and join us, too.

As for theater, our first day was an excellent start. The afternoon play was Tracy's Tiger, in the New Theater, put together by a collaboration of OSF folks from a novella by William Saroyan. I love Saroyan and have learned to trust adaptations and translations that they do here, so I was eager to see it and was not disappointed. There was great music, wonder, philosophy, and it affected me deeply. The notion of people "having" tigers, as we have a shadow on a sunny day, following them around and representing their bolder nature, made for excellent theater. I loved the characters of Nimmo & the psychiatrist, both played by Michael Hume and every time the bird started to sing, I teared up. I loved the play and the performances.

The evening's entertainment was The Tempest, in the Elizabethan Theater. This is a beautiful and complex play, superbly done. Derrick Lee Weeden makes a powerful Prospero. He speaks so clearly and acts so smoothly that new layers of the text become available. The theme of slavery was strongly and expertly developed, with Calaban (played by Dan Donohue, in a welcome return to the OSF) brutally constrained and tormented, as befits the greater fear Prospero has of the earth and the solid. Ariel, though more gently constrained and motivated also by love for her master, still chafes at her bondage, though her master values her gifts more highly, matching as they do his own predilections.

Our restaurant theme this year is to eat in new places this time. For Thursday night, the night we arrived, that was Pasta Piatti, a "new world Italian" place on the main drag. We'd walked by it many times, so this time we went in. We had a very nice meal with friendly, professional, informal service. Recommended.

Friday, between plays, we had dinner at the Peerless Restaurant. It's more expensive, but with the garden table on a nice evening, very friendly greetings, excellent service, and wonderful food (with espresso to finish!). Literally peerless? I’m not sure, but I'd have to put it near the top of the list for meals we've had in this town.

June 19, 2007

Assunta Femia

Nearly thirty years ago, my then-wife and I took our baby H, just a few months old, to visit my friend M in the Haight, in San Francisco. We spent a few days exploring that historic neighborhood and the larger city. One evening, we planned to go out to a movie (A Dream of Passion, with Melina Mercouri and Ellen Burstyn), so we needed someone to stay with H. I wasn’t sure how we’d find someone near by, but M brought his friend Assunta over, who calmly assured us that he was prepared for and comfortable with the task.

I remember him as a slender man, dressed in a long, narrow skirt, with long, dark hair. He talked about his love of pumps and his experiences as a gay man in parochial schools. Somehow, he both charmed me and reassured me that H would be fine in his care. And it was so.

I sometimes return to that evening and think of how I came to trust this man, so different from me, so quickly, and for such an important duty. Beyond the recommendation of M, he manifested a courage and an integrity that I found immediately reassuring.

A couple of months ago, M told me that he had recently died and passed me a link to this obituary. Reading it, I see even more evidence for the trust that I placed in him that evening, long ago. Thanks, again, Assunta.

June 9, 2007

Back, Though I Haven’t Been Gone

I don’t have a good explanation for the hiatus, except that time passes whether we blog or not. So, here we are, two months gone.

I wanted to start back in with a shout-out to those writers that keep me coming back to the Web, ‘cause I have been reading, even if not writing. These are the ones that give me a little frisson when I see a new entry in my blogroll.

I welcome my son’s new blog. It took me a couple of entries to get over the annoyance of needing a MySpace id to comment. I’ve always liked his writing and am glad to see him exercising it again. By the way: Happy Birthday, Allen!

I appreciate how much Karan at Flummel Flummer Flummo is able to share and how clearly and cleverly she writes it.

When Neddie Jingo writes about the local history he finds in his back yard, I find myself looking around my own place and wondering what might be buried in the local mud flats. I can’t usually keep up when he writes about music, but I love the ride when he cuts loose on one of his shaggy dog tales.

Spc. Freeman has a poet’s heart and a job in one terrible place. I appreciate both his writing and his commitment to the task in front of him.

Christopher Soghoian writes interesting posts about security issues -- not a trivial achievement. I learned of his blog when he hit the computer trade press for writing an airline boarding pass generator as a way to illustrate the thinness of the protection that our airport security system provides.

Blue Wren writes long, passionate, political harangues and deft, closely-observed descriptions of her own corner of the world.

Avraham amazes me with his testimony from Mogadisho, though it’s been a month now since his last posting (and, of course, there is reason to worry).