The Park and The Plays
Trip Start Jul 21, 2004
7Trip End Jul 26, 2004
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We finished our breakfasts had headed into downtown Ashland. Since we had a couple of hours before our first play, Dianne wanted to go on the free tour of Lithia Park that was conducted by the City of Ashland's Parks Department. We went to the park's base, where we met up with a Parks employee, several "free spirits", and a couple of other tourists. The Parks employee took us around the park, and pointed out the various varieties of trees that were within the park's urban boundaries
After our tour, jumped into the car and headed over to Medford for another shopping spree at Harry and David's. Even though we dodged the "helpful" shopping assistants, we still managed to find a way to drop a lot of money at this store. On the plus side, we ended up being well stocked up with Moose Munch for the upcoming winter.
We drove back into Ashland to drop off our Harry and David's purchases at the Oak Hill. Then, we headed back into Ashland for our first play of the day: The Comedy of Errors at the Agnus Bowmer Theatre. Even though many critics diminish it by noting that it was Shakespeare’s first play, I’ve always enjoyed the manic energy and preposterous circumstances that populate The Comedy of Errors. I became hopeful that the play might meet my expectations when I saw that the audience was populated with purple shirt/red hat wearing women. I later found out that these women were all part of a social club from various places in California who were up in Ashland for the day to see a play and enjoy the town. Unintentional as it was, their presence set a complimenting tone to the play’s “anything goes” atmosphere. Still, I was interested to see how the company would address the play’s two major hurdles. The first hurdle lies with the play’s setting. The audience has to be convinced that Syracuse is the sort of town where two sets of identical twins could roam about freely and no one would be able to tell them apart. To get over this hurdle, the production turned Syracuse into a Las Vegas style resort. The setting gave the play the outlandishness that is necessary for the audience to suspend disbelief at the play’s many coincidences. The other hurdle that the company addressed was the finding a way to portray the two sets of identical twins that are the play's central characters. For this production, the company decided to have one actor play each set of twins. I was wondering how this strategy would work since the twins meet each other at the play’s end. But, thanks to some very clever staging and the use of doubles (who had their backs to the audience), the artifice succeeded. With both of the play’s technical problems overcome, I could just enjoy the play for the comedy it is. And, enjoy it I did. My enjoyment was made stronger by the fantastic acting done by Ray Porter and Christopher DuVal as Antipholus and Dromio, respectively. Crystal Fox and Aisha Kabia also deserve praise in their roles as Adriana (Antipholus of Syracuse’s wife) and Luciana (Adriana’s sister). All in all, this was a production that more than met my expectations.
Upon exiting the cool theatre and re-entering the sweltering heat, we decided to go accelerate our post-play ritual, and went straight to BJs (instead of waiting for the evening play to end before going to BJ's). With milkshakes in hand, we went back to the Oak Hill again and enjoyed the milkshakes in air conditioned comfort.
After a couple of hours at the Oak Hill, we decided to get some dinner before our next play. We were tired of playing "restaurant roulette", so we went to someplace we knew we'd like: The Greenleaf Restaurant. I was happy to find that nothing had deteriorated about this establishment in our year absence. The food was great, the service was speedy, and the ambience (next to the creek) was perfectly refreshing.
With full stomachs, we walked over to the Elizabethan Theatre for our final play of this trip: Much Ado About Nothing. I’ve always found this to be a problematic play, because it seems like Shakespeare didn’t know what to do with it. He appeared to start writing a “happy ending” version of Romeo And Juliet (as is evidenced by the Claudio/Hero story), but got bored with it and started focusing on a love story between two older people (Benedick/Beatrice). The problem is that the two stories don’t mesh very well. Thus, the play needs two strong actors in the roles of Benedick and Beatrice in order to pull the whole play together. It can be done, as is evidenced by the version filmed by Kenneth Branagh. However, it usually falls flat. Such was the case with this production. I thought that Brent Harris (as Benedick) and Robin Goodrin Nordli (as Beatrice) were fine when they were on the stage by themselves. However, I never saw any chemistry between the two of them. In fact, I thought that the two actors disliked each other instead of being in love with one another. Without that connection, the play fell apart for me. I also didn’t enjoy how the play’s few dramatic elements were downplayed in order to accentuate the comedic elements. By taking this step, I thought this production lost whatever grounding in reality that the play contained. Still, I did enjoy the venue. This open air theatre has wonderful acoustics and a multi-level stage that can handle anything Shakespeare throws at it. I just wish the production had been equal to the stage.
We briefly thought about renewing our post-play "tradition" and make another trip to BJ's. However, after quickly counting up the calories we had consumed that day, we decided to forego another milkshake and head back to the Oak Hill for another night of restless sleep.