Sydney Avey

Dynamic Woman — Changing Times

OSF: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Sep 12, 2017 | theater | 0 comments

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

A summer’s day at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival last week was a smoky affair. OSF canceled outdoor performances. A walk through town required an air filter mask. Still, we saw three plays on the indoor stages, each as different from the others as artistic realism is from abstract impressionism. So, let’s compare.

Artistic Realism

The most classic production we saw was Shakespeare in Love at the Angus Bowmer Theater. A fun romp, Lee Hall adapted the script from a screenplay by Marc Norman & Tom Stoppard. This U.S. premiere pays tribute to Shakespeare’s comedies. It drew hearty laughs from an audience that seemed to need some good chuckles. When you are choking on air and worried that your friends and relatives might need fins and gills to escape raging waters, Will and Company’s antics provide a distraction. 

Sensationalism

Off the Rails played on the Bowmer stage as well. For me, this world premiere by Native American Randy Reinholz was a mixed bag. The American government’s attempt to strip Indian children of their culture is a difficult subject to tackle in two and a half hours. The playwright uses the mistreatment of children in an Indian Boarding School as background for a tableau of ills–racism, sexism, homophobia, and more. He played it as a melodrama, using tablespoons of sugar to help the bad medicine go down. Bawdy barroom scenes seemed to stand in for American culture.

The places where the play veered into authentic Indian culture were lovely. Drawings painted like hieroglyphics on the screen before the first act; the haunting songs performed in Pawnee; the celebratory grass dance; all these demonstrated a heritage worthy of preservation.

Abstract Impressionism

The impressionistic play Hannah and the Dread Gazebo most engaged me. Another world premiere, the ninety-minute production perfectly suited the small Thomas theater. Written by Jiehae Park, this collage of the mythic and the real keeps a tight focus on the themes of cultural divides and generational gaps.

The staging has almost a graphic novel feeling. For example, the Korean mother laid out in her sorrow on a sofa tipped up on its side speaks volumes. And the family sitting mutely around the kitchen table, communicating only with facial expressions and body language says more than any amount of dialogue could.

The conceit that grandma jumps from the 63rd floor of her assisted living facility located on the border between South and North Korea and falls into the DMZ will have you shaking your head and wondering what you just saw. It will also raise questions in your mind that you never thought to ask before.

The 2017 season runs until the end of October.

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