Danforth Comins as Bo Decker and Tyler Layton as Cherie.
Photo: Jenny Graham 2006
My first visit to OSF was in 2003. I came up with my partner and some friends from LA who had regularly attended the festival in the past. My friends extolled the virtues of the festival but I found it hard to believe that traveling all the way to Southern Oregon to a largely rural community for theater could be worth my time. Of course, I was quickly won over by the charms of Ashland, and the quality of the theater experience here. Prior to this time, I was a big music fan, but would go to the theater only if there was something I “had” to see. However, after my first year here I began to think, “if theater if this interesting and this much fun here why am I depriving myself the rest of the year in a city with a vibrant theater community like LA?”
Each time I return to Ashland it serves as a reminder of why I love going to the theater. Sure there are a lot of dogs along the way, but there are also many wonderful and unexpected surprises. This year my second day of the festival was no exception. In the afternoon I saw a production of William Inge’s Bus Stop
directed by the festivals current artistic director Libby Appel. I am familiar with Inge’s plays but wasn’t necessarily expecting much given that I have typically viewed them as rather dated. Additionally, there is the matter of that film version with Marilyn Monroe to force from one’s memory. Granted that would be a good thing to have happen but, like many traumatic experiences, not an easy thing to do.
However, happen it did in Ashland. I was completely drawn into this rather forced conceit of strangers stranded in a bus stop overnight in a snow storms and was actually moved. Tyler Layton made me forget about Monroe’s image over the course of her performance as Cherie that was both funny and knowing. Danforth Comins took perhaps the most trite part in the whole piece, the young and restless Bo Decker, and made it believable and enjoyable. Although the production was not particularly fresh or bold and the play itself not overly ambitious in any way, it did what all good theater should: rise to become more than the sum of its parts.
Judith-Marie Bergan as Mistress Quickly Photo: Jenny Graham 2006
Of course into every week here in Ashland a little rain must fall be it literally or figuratively. Unfortunately it was not the weather kind but the dramatic kind in The Merry Wives of Windsor
on Saturday. Wrapped in inexplicable garish neon colors and costumes that suggested a cross between Mad Max: Beyond Thurnderdome
and Calamity Jane
, this production failed to ignite much fire of laughter. There were some bright spots in the performances including Tyler Layton’s Alice Ford, Shona Tucker’s Mistress Page, and Jonathan Haugen’s Master Ford but this was hardly enough to rescue this mess. Andrew Tsao’s direction favored the shrill and didactic over any real sense of interaction between these characters and it often felt like these normally excellent actors were looking for some escape. However, simply putting more energy into it often made characters like Falstaff and Quickly seem more maniacal than thought out. Part of what makes Wives
so funny is the warmth and humanity which were sadly missing. Better luck next time. Until then, I’ll stick to Verdi.